Congestive Heart Failure

What is congestive heart failure?

The heart is a muscle that pumps oxygen-rich blood to all parts of the body. When you have heart failure, the heart can’t pump as well as it should. Or the heart muscle can’t relax and fill the pumping chamber with blood. Blood and fluid may back up into the lungs. This causes congestive heart failure. And it causes pulmonary edema. Some parts of the body also don’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. This means they can't work well. These problems lead to the symptoms of heart failure.


Congestive Heart Failure

What causes congestive heart failure?

Heart failure may result from:

  • Heart valve disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Active infections of the heart valves or heart muscle, such as endocarditis
  • A past heart attack
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Disease of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Heart disease or problems that are present at birth (congenital)
  • Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias) that lead to ongoing fast heart rates
  • Long-term (chronic) lung disease and pulmonary embolism
  • Some medicines
  • A reaction to medicines such as those used for chemotherapy
  • Anemia and too much blood loss
  • Complications of diabetes
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Certain viral infections

What are the symptoms of congestive heart failure?

The most common symptoms of heart failure are:

  • Shortness of breath while resting, exercising, or lying flat
  • Weight gain from water retention
  • Visible swelling of the legs and ankles from fluid buildup. Sometimes the belly (abdomen) may swell.
  • Severe tiredness (fatigue) and weakness
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, and belly pain
  • Cough that doesn’t go away. It can cause blood-tinged or frothy sputum.
The severity of the condition and symptoms depends on how much of the heart's pumping ability has been affected. The first step in managing heart failure symptoms is knowing your baselines or what’s normal for you. How much do you weigh? Are you gaining weight but eating the same amount? How much can you do before you feel short of breath? Do your socks and shoes fit comfortably? Knowing what’s normal for you will help you see when symptoms are getting worse. Once you know your baselines, watch for changes daily.

The symptoms of heart failure may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Learn More About Congestive Heart Failure
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