Skip to Content

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) occurs when the heart muscle is weakened and cannot effectively pump enough oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. The term “failure” refers to the compromised operation of the heart.  It does not mean the organ has stopped or is about to stop working. 

CHF can be caused by a number of medical conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, a previous heart attack or hereditary heart defect, an infection of or damage to the heart muscle, or coronary artery disease (CAD), heart valve disease or even kidney disease. 

While congestive heart failure is fairly common and can occur at any age, it is the leading cause of hospitalization among people 65 or older. In CHF, blood backs up in arteries and veins due to the weak pumping action, causing fluid to seep into tissue around the lungs and throughout the body. Also, the lack of normal blood supply can affect the function of other organs. 

Fatigue or weakness are among the first CHF symptoms and can be followed by shortness of breath, especially during exertion. Fluid leakage and accumulation can cause swelling of the ankles, feet and legs as well as increased urination. Some patients experience nausea, abdominal pain, and decreased appetite. 

There are a number of diagnostic routes to identifying CHF including:

  • blood test to differentiate heart failure from other problems
  • chest x-ray
  • electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) and echocardiogram reveals any heart enlargement or irregular heartbeat, fluid in and around the lungs or if there have been previous, undetected heart attacks. 
  • stress echocardiogram – with the patient walking a treadmill or riding a stationary bike  
  • chemical stress echocardiogram – in which the heart is stressed by drugs when a patient cannot walk or ride – can be performed to determine the cause of the heart muscle weakness. 

Medication and lifestyle changes can help patients lead close to normal lives. Some common drugs used are heart medications to control blood pressure, slow the heart rate and help it pump more blood along with diuretics (water pills) to reduce fluid buildup. Such changes in diet as decreasing salt, fat and dairy intake along with an overall reduction in fluid intake might also be recommended. 

If left untreated, congestive heart failure can worsen and prevent the heart from pumping enough blood to sustain life. At the first sign of any symptoms, consult a physician. To find a physician or cardiologist with Mercy Health System, call 1.877.GO MERCY or visit Find a Doctor.