Congestive Heart Failure is an extremely common occurrence as many people are diagnosed each year. The name congestive heart failure is deceiving, as the heart doesn’t fail; it becomes weaker and less efficient. The heart’s main job is to pump oxygenated blood throughout our bodies and thus, deliver nutrients to where they are needed. When we are exercising, our hearts pump faster as our muscles require more oxygen at a faster rate. In congestive heart failure, our bodies do not receive the proper amounts of blood to the tissues that need them and problems arise. Congestive heart failure pathophysiology relates to the ventricles stiffening and the muscles of the heart begin to weaken. Your body tries to offset the lack of oxygenated blood in the system and one symptom of congestive heart failure is the accumulation of fluid in parts of the body such as the abdomen, arms and legs. There are many causes for congestive heart failure, with hypertension being the most predominant. Managing congestive heart failure is critical as the heart is the most important organ in the body and is absolutely vital for survival.
Congestive Heart Disease Causes
As mentioned previously, congestive heart failure is linked to a number of causes. These causes all contribute to the weakening of the heart muscles and thus, poor blood circulation throughout the body. Some of these causes include coronary artery disease, hypertension, alcohol, heart valve dysfunction, smoking and poor diet.
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease is one of the top 2 causes of congestive heart failure, the other being hypertension. Coronary artery disease is thus, one of the leading causes of death in North America. The coronary arteries are vital as they supply blood to the heart. When these arteries begin to become obstructed via plaque build up, the term used is “atherosclerosis”. Atherosclerosis is essentially the narrowing of arteries due to plaque build up from various factors such as high cholesterol and hypertension. When this happens, arteries stiffen and blood supply to the heart drastically diminishes. The heart is unable to receive the amount of blood it needs to function correctly and thus, weakening of the muscles of the heart is inevitable.
Monitoring blood pressure is extremely important for managing congestive heart failure. Hypertension literally means extreme tension in the blood vessels of the body. When blood pressure begins to become too high, the muscles of the left ventricle begin to gain mass and become larger. This is termed “left ventricular hypertrophy”. This is problematic as it impairs with the function of the left ventricle to relax and adequately fill up with blood that is going to be pumped out through the aorta and to the body. To compensate, your heart as to work harder to pump the same amount of blood to the body and increases the risk of congestive heart failure.
In general, alcohol negatively affects the body in many ways. The heart is not excluded from this. Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to hypertension and thus, left ventricle hypertrophy as well. Increased alcohol consumption has also been linked to increased risks of developing atherosclerosis. This is because alcohol has been shown to increase fats, specifically triglycerides and cholesterol in the bloodstream. Although almost all alcohol has negative impacts on the body, red wine in low amounts has been hypothesized to reduce the risk and symptoms of congestive heart failure.
Heart Valve Dysfunction
There are 4 different heart valves and if they are occurring difficulties in functioning, they can directly relate to congestive heart failure pathophysiology. They are named the aortic valve, tricuspid valve, pulmonary valve and mitral valve. Leaky valves, and valves that are too narrow can directly causes symptoms of congestive heart failure. Many other disorders are associated with heart valve dysfunction and can directly relate to congestive heart failure if they are inefficient at pumping blood through the heart to the different chambers.
Quitting smoking not only benefits heart health, but health of every vital organ in your body as well. Smoking has been linked to increased cholesterol levels and decreased efficiency of the heart and lungs. Harmful products in cigarettes have been shown to directly impair with the hearts functioning.
Congestive heart failure and diet are directly linked. Thus, managing congestive heart failure is associated with being careful about what and how you eat. Obesity is linked to numerous detrimental health problems. These include increased LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol) that increase the risk of atherosclerosis and hypertension. Congestive heart failure pathophysiology and diet has been studied intensively in recent years and new studies have shown that managing our diet is vital in preventing heart disease.
Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure
There is a wide array of symptoms of congestive heart failure. Many of these also contribute to an accurate diagnosis of congestive heart failure. Some of these symptoms include edema, shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness, chest pain, increased heart size and an irregular heartbeat.
The presence of edema (swelling) in areas of the body such as the limbs and abdomen is one of the main symptoms of congestive heart failure. It is also imperative for diagnosis of congestive heart failure as worsening is correlating with deterioration of the heart muscles and efficiency. This swelling is caused by fluid build up. This fluid build up is caused by the hearts inefficiency. The kidneys try to compensate and promote the reabsorption of sodium and water. This evidently promotes swelling in various parts of the body and promotes more blood to be kept in the bloodstream. Depending on which side of the heart fails begins first, swelling can appear on the left or right side.
Dyspnea (Shortness of Breath)
Shortness of breath is also a symptom of congestive heart failure. This is again due to the hearts inefficiency to supply blood to lungs with the proper amounts of oxygen they need to function.
Fatigue, Weakness, Chest Pain
All three of these are symptoms of congestive heart failure. They are again due to decreased amounts of oxygen going to the tissue that need them most. This causes the feelings of weakness and fatigue. Also, the heart may try to compensate for this inefficiency and produce a chest pain that makes it hard to walk or stand.
Irregular Heartbeat and Size
These two symptoms are vital in managing congestive heart failure. The heart may begin to pump faster to compensate for the lack of oxygen going to the tissue. This can cause an irregular heartbeat that has the potential to cause hypertension. As well, over an increased period, the size of the heart may increase due to the increased muscle composition the heart takes on to try and compensate for the lack of blood going to the tissues. This increased size actually decreases the amount of blood that can enter the ventricles and thus, decreases the quantity of blood being pumped to the body in a given heartbeat.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms of congestive heart failure, it is imperative you contact medical assistance immediately.
Managing Congestive Heart Failure
Without your heart, you cannot survive. It is imperative to be actively managing congestive heart failure to improve your prognosis and recovery in the long term. There are several things that can help minimize the symptoms of congestive heart failure. Medications for congestive heart failure are an option, but depending on the severity of congestive heart failure, diet and exercise may be the best option.
Diet and Exercise
As mentioned previously, congestive heart failure and diet are directly linked. It is imperative to consume a diet that is low in trans and saturated fats to help minimize the total cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. A cholesterol level that is too high directly promotes the development of atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. Also, limiting the consumption of sodium is imperative for managing congestive heart failure. An excessive amount of sodium in the body causes the body to reabsorb and retain water. This can indirectly affect your heart health and raise blood pressure. The best way to limit sodium consumption is to avoid processed and packaged foods. Congestive heart failure and diet options should be discussed with your doctor.
Exercising is not only vital in maintaining a health heart and lifestyle; studies have shown that it benefits health in a variety of ways. Exercising has been shown to help lower blood cholesterol levels and reverse atherosclerosis. Exercising has been proven to lower hypertension and thus, directly lowers the risk of heart disease and failure. Exercising is commonly the first recommendation given by doctors to improve heart health.
Medications for Congestive Heart Failure
If the severity of congestive heart failure is too great to rely on just diet and exercise, medications for congestive heart failure may be prescribed. Diagnosis of congestive heart failure by a licensed medical practitioner is needed to be prescribed the following drugs:
Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors
Angiotensin-converting enzymes inhibitors are amongst the most common medications for congestive heart failure. Angiotensin II is a common hormone that is present in the body and has effects on the cardiovascular system. It is commonly known to constrict various blood vessels and thus, raise blood pressure. As the name implies, Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors inhibit the enzyme needed to make angiotensin II. Thus, ACE inhibitors evidently lower blood pressure by allowing blood vessels to relax and dilate. This lowers the energy needed by the heart to pump blood throughout the body and helps in the managing of congestive heart failure.
Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers
This is also another common medication for congestive heart failure. As mentioned previously, Angiotensin II is a hormone that constricts blood vessels and contributes to hypertension. As the name implies, this class of drugs blocks Angiotensin II from binding to its receptor and eliciting its effects on blood vessels. The result is the dilation of blood vessels and lower blood pressure.
Beta-blockers are usually prescribed with increasing severity of congestive heart failure. Due to the presence of beta-receptors on the heart, this class of drugs blocks the binding of epinephrine and norepinephrine to the heart, which indirectly lowers heart rate and blood pressure.
Aldosterone is a common hormone in the body and helps absorb water. By blocking this hormone, more water is excreted from the body. This evidently leads to a decreased blood volume and thus, decreased blood pressure.
This medication helps combat congestive heart failure and poor diet by promoting the excretion of water and sodium. This helps to decrease the build up of fluids in the body and promotes a decreased blood pressure.
Blood Thinners and Cholesterol Management Drugs
Depending on the diagnosis of congestive heart failure, a doctor may elect to prescribe blood thinners or cholesterol managing medications as well. They are often used in combination with other congestive heart failure medications, as they do not directly help prevent and manage heart failure and disease. These drugs essentially help prevent blood clots from the narrowing of arteries and help to lower cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.
There are currently medical devices that help to manage heart health.
Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)
This device is inserted via surgery to help promote the healthy functioning of the left ventricle. The left ventricle is vital in pumping blood to the body and if it is not functioning correctly, it could have severe health problems. This device is battery operated and helps promote the efficient pumping of a left ventricle that is not efficient on its own.
Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)
These devices are also inserted via surgery to help promote and manage a healthy heart rhythm and beat. When the device monitors an irregular beat or rhythm, it provides an electrical stimulation to jolt the heart back into a healthy and efficient pattern.
This is an absolute last resort for treating congestive heart failure. If your doctor and surgeon deem it necessary, it must be done to save your life in the future.
The medications and devices above should be discussed at length with a licensed health professional before a decision on how to treat congestive heart failure is made.