What Is Congestive Heart Failure?

heart attack

Story at-a-glance -

  • Congestive heart failure is a chronic or acute disease that affects the ability of the heart muscles to pump properly
  • Because congestive heart failure can lead to various complications, it’s important that people, especially those at risk for congestive heart failure, must find ways to improve their health

Congestive heart failure is a chronic or acute disease1 that affects the ability of the heart muscles to pump properly. This disease, which can also be referred to as heart failure, manifests when there's fluid buildup around the heart, causing the heart muscles to pump inefficiently. To better understand how congestive heart failure develops, you have to know your heart's anatomy.2

The heart has four chambers, with the upper half having two atria and the lower half having two ventricles. The ventricles pump blood to your body's organ and tissues, while the atria get blood from your body as it recirculates. If these ventricles fail to pump back blood in sufficient amounts to the body, blood and other fluids can back up inside your lungs, abdomen, liver and lower body.

Common Types of Congestive Heart Failure

The most common type of congestive heart failure is left-sided congestive heart failure. This develops when the left ventricle fails to properly pump blood out to the body. As the disease progresses, fluid begins to build up in the lungs and causes breathing difficulties. There are two types of left-sided congestive heart failure:3

  • Systolic heart failure: This develops when the left ventricle fails to contract normally, reducing the level of force available that'll push blood into circulation. This lack of force means that the heart cannot pump properly.
  • Diastolic heart failure: Also called diastolic dysfunction, this happens when the muscle in the left ventricle stiffens. Since the muscle may no longer relax, the heart cannot quite fill with blood between heartbeats.

Some patients may also be susceptible to right-sided congestive heart failure. This disease affects the right ventricle and develops when it has difficulty pumping blood into the lungs. Because of this, blood backs up in the blood vessels, causing fluid retention in the lower extremities, abdomen and other vital organs. Patients can also have left-sided and right-sided congestive heart failure at the same time. The disease would begin in the left side and travel to the right side if left untreated.

What Are the Risk Factors for Congestive Heart Failure?

According to the Mayo Clinic, while a single risk factor can be enough to trigger congestive heart failure, a combination of any of these factors may increase your risk of:4

High blood pressure levels: The heart tends to work harder than usual if blood pressure levels are too high.

Coronary artery diseases: Narrowed arteries occur because this disease can limit the heart's supply of oxygen-rich blood and lead to weakened heart muscles.

Heart attack: If there is damage to the heart muscle because of a heart attack, this can cause the heart to no longer pump as well as it should.

Diabetes: Diabetics have a higher risk of high blood pressure levels and coronary artery disease, possibly leading to congestive heart failure.

Sleep apnea: An inability to breathe properly while sleeping at night can lead to low blood oxygen levels and a higher risk of abnormal heart rhythms. These problems can weaken the heart.

Congenital heart defects: Some people who were born with congenital heart defects eventually develop heart failure.

Valvular heart disease: Patients with this disease have a higher risk for heart failure.

Irregular heartbeats: Abnormal heartbeats, especially if these are frequent and fast, can weaken heart muscle and trigger heart failure.

Viruses: Your heart's muscles can be damaged due to a viral infection.

Obesity: People who are obese are known to have a higher risk for congestive heart failure.

Alcohol use: Excessive alcohol consumption can weaken the heart muscle and trigger heart failure.

Tobacco use: This can increase a person's risk for heart failure.

Diabetes medications: Rosiglitazone (Avandia) and pioglitazone (Actos), which are often recommended for diabetics, can increase a person's heart failure risk.

Other medications: Other medicines that can lead to heart failure or heart problems include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), anesthesia medications,antiarrhythmic medications,medications used to treat high blood pressure, blood conditions and neurological conditions (to name a few) and prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Because congestive heart failure can lead to various complications, it's important that you find ways to improve your health, especially if you are at risk for congestive heart failure. Being aware of the possible causes and symptoms of congestive heart failure is a plus, and can be helpful in addressing factors before it's too late.


Congestive Heart Failure: Introduction

What Is Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms

Congestive Heart Failure Causes

Congestive Heart Failure Stages

Congestive Heart Failure Life Expectancy

Congestive Heart Failure Treatment

Congestive Heart Failure Prevention

Congestive Heart Failure Diet

Congestive Heart Failure FAQ

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