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heart failure

Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure (CHF), means the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Over time, conditions such as coronary artery disease or high blood pressure gradually leave the heart too weak or stiff to fill and pump efficiently.


Heart failure typically develops slowly and is a chronic, long-term condition, although the person may experience a sudden onset of symptoms, known as acute heart failure. The term congestive heart failure comes from blood backing up into, or congesting, the liver, abdomen, lower extremities and lungs.


Symptoms may include:


  • chronic heart failure:
    • fatigue and weakness
    • rapid or irregular heartbeat
    • shortness of breath
    • reduced ability to exercise
    • persistent cough or wheezing with phlegm
    • swelling in the legs, ankles and feet
    • swelling of the abdomen
    • sudden weight gain from fluid retention
    • lack of appetite
    • nausea
    • difficulty concentrating

  • acute heart failure:
    • symptoms are similar to those of chronic heart failure but more severe
    • sudden fluid buildup
    • rapid or irregular heartbeat with palpitations that may cause the heart to stop beating
    • sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus
    • chest pain if caused by a heart attack

Causes may include:

Heart failure often develops after other conditions have damaged or weakened the heart.  Any of the following conditions may cause heart failure


  • coronary artery disease - arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle narrow from a buildup of fatty deposits. The blood moves slowly through narrowed arteries, leaving some areas of the heart muscle weak and chronically deprived of oxygen-rich blood. In many cases, the blood flow to the muscle is just enough to keep the muscle alive but not functioning well

  • heart attack - occurs if plaque formed by the fatty deposits in the arteries ruptures. This causes the blood clot to completely block the flow of blood to an area of the heart muscle thus weakening the heart's pumping ability

  • high blood pressure (hypertension) - blood pressure is the force of blood pumped by the heart through the arteries. If the blood pressure is high, the heart has to work harder than it should to circulate blood throughout the body. Over time, the heart muscle may become thicker to compensate for the extra work it must perform, enlarging the heart. Eventually, the heart muscle may become either too stiff or too weak to effectively pump blood

  • faulty heart valves - the four valves of the heart keep blood flowing in the proper direction through the heart. A damaged valve forces the heart to work harder to keep blood flowing as it should. Over time, this extra work can weaken the heart

  • damage to the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) - some of the many causes may include infections, alcohol abuse, the toxic effect of drugs, as well as diseases such as lupus, or thyroid problems. If a specific cause can't be found, it is referred to as idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy

  • myocarditis - an inflammation of the heart muscle, most commonly caused by a virus and can lead to left-sided heart failure

  • congenital heart defects - if the heart and its chambers or valves have not formed correctly, the healthy parts of the heart have to work harder to compensate. Genetic defects contribute to the risk of certain types of heart disease, which in turn may lead to heart failure

  • Abnormal heart rhythms, or heart arrhythmias - abnormal heart rhythms may cause the heart to beat too fast creating extra work for the heart. Over time, the heart may weaken leading to heart failure. A slow heartbeat may prevent the heart from getting enough blood out to the body and may also lead to heart failure


Treatment may include:


  • repairing a heart valve
  • controlling a fast heart rhythm
  • medication
  • devices that help the heart beat properly
  • cardiology

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