What is congestive heart failure?

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is also known as heart failure and is a chronic condition that occurs as a result of the heart muscle not pumping blood as effectively as it should. It affects the chambers of the heart which we as humans have four of: two atria and two ventricles. The ventricles send blood to the rest of your body while the atria receive blood from the rest of the body. With congestive heart failure, the ventricles are unable to pump blood in ample volume. As a result, blood and other fluids get backed up inside the lungs, abdomen, liver, and lower body which can be life-threatening. About five million people in the U.S. have congestive heart failure.


Congestive heart failure can be acute or chronic. The signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure may include shortness of breath when you exert yourself or when you lie down, fatigue and weakness, swelling in your legs, ankles and feet, rapid or irregular heartbeat, reduced ability to exercise, persistent cough or wheezing, increased need to urinate at night, swelling of your abdomen, sudden weight gain from fluid retention, lack of appetite and nausea, difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness, sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus, or chest pain if your heart failure is caused by a heart attack.

Congestive heart failure may be caused by other health conditions that affect your heart such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, or certain valve conditions. When your blood pressure is greater than 120/80 mmHg it can eventually lead to CHF if left untreated or not managed properly. With coronary artery disease, your heart’s coronary arteries become damaged by restricting blood flow. The arteries become blocked and narrowed as fatty substances build up. Valve conditions occur when the valves do not open and close correctly which causes the ventricles to work even harder to pump blood to the rest of your body.

It is important to know all of the risk factors for congestive heart failure because even having just one risk factor can cause CHF. The risk factors for congestive heart failure include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart attack, diabetes, some diabetes medications, sleep apnea, congenital heart defects, valvular heart disease, viral infections, alcohol and tobacco use, obesity, or irregular heartbeats.

Treatment for congestive heart failure may include ACE inhibitor medications, diuretics, heart muscle stimulants, beta-blockers, surgery, devices such as a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, or a heart transplant.