Congestive Heart Failure: What It Is and How To Avoid It - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on September 24, 2014

Congestive Heart Failure: What It Is and How To Avoid It

Preventing congestive heart failure is essentially risk factor control.

Preventing congestive heart failure is
essentially risk factor control.

The term “congestive heart failure” can be somewhat deceiving. The condition doesn’t mean that the heart has failed, but rather that the heart isn’t working as well as it should be.

“The heart muscle is weakened or too stiff, therefore it doesn’t pump enough blood throughout the body,” said Edward W. LaPorta, M.D., chief of cardiology at Delaware County Memorial Hospital.

With congestive heart failure, blood flow out of the heart slows and the blood returning to the heart through veins can back up. This increases the pressure in the blood vessels and forces fluid from the blood vessels into body tissues. Sometimes, people with congestive heart failure become short of breath because blood can back up in their lungs, Dr. LaPorta explained.

Other symptoms of heart failure include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loose cough and difficulty breathing because of fluid buildup in your lungs
  • Swelling of your feet, ankles, legs, arms, belly and face
  • Weight gain

“Signs of swelling, usually in the ankles and legs first and rapid weight gain could be a sign that you’re retaining fluids,” he said of patients with congestive heart failure.

Although we lose some of our heart’s blood pumping ability with age, there are other risk factors that lead to congestive heart failure.

“The most common cause is coronary disease,” Dr. LaPorta said. Other conditions that can lead to heart failure are past heart attacks, high blood pressure, certain types of heart valve problems, heart muscle disease or inflammation, exposing the heart to certain types of toxins such as alcohol, diabetes and sleep apnea.

Preventing congestive heart failure, Dr. LaPorta said, is essentially “risk factor control.”

“It really is the same mantra for all things – don’t smoke; keep your blood pressure under control; exercise regularly – you need to prevent the diseases that cause heart failure,” he explained.

Steps to prevent congestive heart failure include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Losing extra pounds or maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding alcohol or only drinking in moderation
  • Eating a healthy diet that's low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium
  • Exercising regularly
  • Monitoring and managing blood pressure
  • Controlling diabetes and cholesterol

“Patients should avoid salt. They shouldn't cook with salt and they shouldn't add it to their food,” Dr. LaPorta cautioned, adding that they should also watch out for processed foods high in sodium such as cold cuts, frozen dinners. He also said, depending on the patient and his or her levels of fluid retention, it may be recommended to limit how much liquid you take in.

If you do develop congestive heart failure, there are a number of medications your doctor can prescribe to treat it, however you should still follow the lifestyle modifications listed above.

“If you’re smoking or drinking, the medication is not going to be nearly as effective,” Dr. LaPorta said.

In addition to medications, there are a number of procedures your doctor may recommend during your course of treatment, some of which include implantable cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices or an implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD).

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