Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to manage blood volume, forcing blood to collect in other areas of your body, such as the lower extremities (feet and legs) and lungs. Heart failure becomes worse over time—starting with irregular heart rate and collection of blood and fluid in the lungs, and progressing to more serious health issues like kidney and liver damage, pulmonary hypertension, and sudden cardiac arrest without therapy for chronic heart failure. Read on for the common symptoms as well as for the most common heart failure treatment options:
1. Shortness of breath
Breathlessness or dyspnea often occurs early on as the heart begins to fail. This shortness of breath and chest tightness will present as blood backs up in the veins, as the heart is unable to transport oxygenated blood from the lungs to the heart. As fluid collects in the lungs, normal breathing will become strained and difficult. Patients experiencing early stage heart failure may also become breathless when exerting themselves.
2. Swelling or edema
It is common for edema to occur during heart failure as one or both of the heart’s lower chambers cease pumping blood efficiently. With nowhere to go, blood will collect in the ankles, legs, and feet, causing noticeable swelling in the extremities.
3. Dry, hacking cough
With a weakening heart, blood often collects in the lungs, leading to congestion, wheezing, and often, a dry, hacking cough. A heart failure cough will sound “wet”, meaning it rattles, pops, and crackles in the chest and lungs, due to the buildup of congestive heart fluid.
4. Bloated stomach
Congestive heart failure often causes bloating and hardening of the abdomen as fluids back up in the veins, and with little place to go, collect in the stomach area. The fluids can also collect in nearby areas, such as the GI tract and liver as the body and organs are overloaded, causing ascites, or elevated jugular venous pressure, pulmonary congestion, and peripheral edema.
5. Heart failure treatment options
Unfortunately, heart failure and its symptoms typically worsen over time. So counseling with your doctor about new or worsening symptoms is vital to your recovery. Doctors may prescribe a series of treatments for heart failure including:
- Medications: These aim to lessen fluid buildup (and blood pressure) while expanding the blood vessels to restore healthy blood flow. Prescribed drugs may include a combination of vasodilators, diuretics correct fluid retention, aldosterone or ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, and anticoagulants to prevent blood clots.
- Surgeries: In serious heart failure patients, doctors may recommend surgery to replace damaged heart valves or widen or bypass blocked arteries. In this case, patients may undergo surgery to implant a cardioverter defibrillator or a pacemaker to shock the heart rhythm back to normal.
- Lifestyle changes: Limiting fluid intake, weight loss, moderating salt and caffeine intake, exercise and dietary changes, as well as sleep therapy (if patients suffer from sleep apnea) may also be recommended for preventing heart failure.