What Is Congestive Heart Failure?

According to the American Heart Association, congestive heart failure (CHF), or heart failure, is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to the body's other organs. This can result from

- narrowed arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle - coronary artery disease.
- past heart attack, or myocardial infarction, with scar tissue that interferes with the heart muscle's normal work.
- high blood pressure.
- heart valve disease due to past rheumatic fever or other causes.
- primary disease of the heart muscle itself, called cardiomyopathy.
- heart defects present at birth — congenital heart defects.
- infection of the heart valves and/or heart muscle itself — endocarditis and/or myocarditis.

The "failing" heart keeps working but not as efficiently as it should. People with heart failure can't exert themselves because they become short of breath and tired.

As blood-flow out of the heart slows, blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing congestion in the tissues. Often swelling (edema) results. Most often there's swelling in the legs and ankles, but it can happen in other parts of the body, too. Sometimes fluid collects in the lungs and interferes with breathing, causing shortness of breath, especially when a person is lying down.

Heart failure also affects the kidneys' ability to dispose of sodium and water. The retained water increases the edema.

 

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