What is congestive heart failure?
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a chronic progressive condition that affects the pumping power of your heart muscles. While often referred to simply as “heart failure,” CHF specifically refers to the stage in which fluid builds up around the heart and causes it to pump inefficiently.
You have four heart chambers. The upper half of your heart has two atria, and the lower half of your heart has two ventricles. The ventricles pump blood to your body’s organs and tissues, and the atria receive blood from your body as it circulates back from the rest of your body.
CHF develops when your ventricles can’t pump blood in sufficient volume to the body. Eventually, blood and other fluids can back up inside your:
- lower body
CHF can be life-threatening. If you suspect you or someone near you has CHF, seek immediate medical treatment.
What are the most common types of CHF?
Left-sided CHF is the most common type of CHF. It occurs when your left ventricle doesn’t properly pump blood out to your body. As the condition progresses, fluid can build up in your lungs, which makes breathing difficult.
There are two kinds of left-sided heart failure:
- Systolic heart failureoccurs when the left ventricle fails to contract normally. This reduces the level of force available to push blood into circulation. Without this force, the heart can’t pump properly.
- Diastolic failure, or diastolic dysfunction, happens when the muscle in the left ventricle becomes stiff. Because it can no longer relax, the heart can’t quite fill with blood between beats.
Right-sided CHF occurs when the right ventricle has difficulty pumping blood to your lungs. Blood backs up in your blood vessels, which causes fluid retention in your lower extremities, abdomen, and other vital organs.
It’s possible to have left-sided and right-sided CHF at the same time. Usually, the disease starts in the left side and then travels to the right when left untreated.
What are the causes of CHF, and am I at risk?
CHF may result from other health conditions that directly affect your cardiovascular system. This is why it’s important to get annual checkups to lower your risk for heart health problems, including high blood pressure (hypertension), coronary artery disease, and valve conditions.
When your blood pressure is higher than normal, it may lead to CHF. Hypertension occurs when your blood vessels become restricted by cholesterol and fat. This makes it harder for your blood to pass through them.
Coronary artery disease
Cholesterol and other types of fatty substances can block the coronary arteries, which are the small arteries that supply blood to the heart. This causes the arteries to become narrow. Narrower coronary arteries restrict your blood flow and can lead to damage in your arteries.
Your heart valves regulate blood flow through your heart by opening and closing to let blood in and out of the chambers. Valves that don’t open and close correctly may force your ventricles to work harder to pump blood. This can be a result of a heart infection or defect.
While heart-related diseases can lead to CHF, there are other seemingly unrelated conditions that may increase your risk, too. These include diabetes, thyroid disease, and obesity. Severe infections and allergic reactions may also contribute to CHF.