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Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
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What is Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)?

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. The term “heart failure” should not be confused with “heart attack.” Heart failure occurs after the heart muscle has been damaged or weakened by another primary cause, such as high blood pressure , coronary artery disease , or certain kinds of infections. Depending on the cause, heart failure can occur gradually, over many years, while the heart tries to compensate for its loss of function, or it may occur more quickly if a lot of the heart muscle is damaged at once.

Blood Flow Through the Heart
Blood Flow Through the Heart
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

It is estimated that 5 million Americans are currently living with CHF. As the US population ages, and baby boomers are getting older, that number is expected...

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop congestive heart failure with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing congestive heart failure. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your healthcare provider what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for congestive heart failure (CHF) include:

Medical Condition

The following medical conditions put you at increased risk for developing CHF:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Severe emphysema
  • Previous history of heart disease
  • Valvular heart disease

**Specific Lifestyle...

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition that is usually the result of other underlying conditions. It is important to diagnose the underlying cause, so that the proper treatment can be given.

Swollen Feet
Swollen Feet
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

There are not always noticeable symptoms for CHF as it develops. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially with activity, or when lying down
  • Swelling of feet and ankles
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Persistent cough or wheezing cough that may be accompanied by white or blood-tinged phlegm
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Change in urine production (increase or decrease, need to urinate at night)
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased alertness

The first step your doctor will take to assess whether you have CHF is to discuss your medical history and conduct a complete physical exam. Afterwards, your doctor may recommend some or all of the following tests to help make the diagnosis and assess the degree of damage:

Chest X-ray—An x-ray image will show whether the heart is enlarged, or congestion is present in the lungs.

Blood Tests—To check for anemia, thyroid disease, elevated cholesterol and blood lipids, and to evaluate kidney and liver function, electrolytes, and calcium and magnesium levels. In addition, your doctor will check plasma levels of BNP (brain natriuretic peptide) as those are elevated in patients with heart failure.

Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG)—Records the electrical activity of...

If you are at risk of developing congestive heart failure (CHF), you can take steps to prevent it by adhering to the following recommended lifestyle guidelines:

  • Lose Excess Weight
  • Discontinue or Avoid Smoking
  • Eat a Healthy Diet
  • Maintain Normal Blood Pressure
  • Decrease or Discontinue Alcohol Consumption
  • Exercise Regularly

Lose Excess Weight

Excess weight can put a strain on the heart muscle, which can eventually lead to CHF. If you are overweight, adopt a sensible eating plan that will enable you to lose weight gradually and maintain your weight at the desired level.

Discontinue or Avoid Smoking

Smoking damages your blood vessels, reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, and forces your heart to work harder. Discuss with your doctor the best way...

American Heart Association


American Heart Association
National Center
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231



Internet Address:

Description of Services Provided:

On this site, you will find general information about heart disease, including educational information, news, research, health programs, and dietary information.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Cardiovascular Health Program


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd.
Atlanta, GA 30333



Internet Address:

Description of Services Provided:

This site provides educational and statistical information...

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