Congestive heart failure is when your heart doesn’t pump blood well, so the flow of blood out of your heart gets backed up. There’s no cure for heart failure, but you can manage your symptoms and try to slow how fast the condition progresses.
Heart failure gets worse over time without treatment. Many people live for years with symptoms that they don’t realize are connected to the condition. If you’re at a greater risk for developing heart failure because of your family history, other medical conditions or lifestyle, learn more about how to slow down or prevent congestive heart failure.
What causes congestive heart failure
When you have congestive heart failure, your heart still works and still pumps blood. However, it can’t keep up with demand. Blood returns to your heart quicker than your heart can send it back out. This means the rest of your body — including important organs — doesn’t get the oxygenated blood it needs to do its jobs.
Heart failure doesn’t just happen. Most people with the condition have other health issues that can lead to congestive heart failure. The following conditions stress the heart and increase the risk of failure:
- Abnormal heart valves
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Severe lung disease
- Sleep apnea
Disorders like abnormal heart rhythm, hyperthyroidism and severe anemia can also cause symptoms of heart failure. These symptoms typically go away with proper treatment.
Complications of congestive heart failure
Without treatment, people with congestive heart failure can have other complications. Your heart could grow bigger as it attempts to hold the excess blood collecting inside of it. Your blood vessels could also shrink to slow the flow of blood going into your heart. They may then reroute the available blood to other organs. As a result, your heart tries to pump faster.
This can lead to additional problems like irregular heartbeats or problems with your heart’s valves. Fluid may build up in your lungs and make breathing harder. Decreased blood flow to organs like your kidneys and liver can damage them. You’ll then need to go through separate treatments for these new conditions.
Congestive heart failure prevention
The best way to prevent damage that leads to heart failure is to know the risk factors in your life and make changes to control them. This could include changes in your lifestyle or medication.
For example, stop smoking or don’t pick up the habit. Lose weight and adopt healthier eating habits. Get some exercise and learn ways to reduce stress in your life. Take medication for diabetes and high blood pressure if your doctor prescribes them.
It’s also important to learn the symptoms of congestive heart failure. The most common symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased pulse
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in your legs
Also, pay attention to confusion, fatigue or poor appetite when they appear with any of the other symptoms of heart failure.
Learn more about your own heart health by taking our free, online heart risk assessment.