What is congestive heart failure?

Congestive heart failure, also called CHF or heart failure, is a serious and complex disease in which the heart muscle has been damaged or has to work too hard because of heart disease and other conditions, such as obesity. Although the heart continues to beat, the damaged heart muscle is too weak to efficiently pump enough oxygen-rich blood to and from the body, resulting in potentially life-threatening congestion in the lungs and other tissues of the body.

Congestive heart failure is a common complication of heart attack and other types of heart disease that damage the heart muscle. These diseases include hypertension, heart valve disorders, arrhythmias, and cardiomyopathy. Congestive heart failure can also be caused by anemia.

In general, congestive heart failure affects both the left and right sides of the heart, but it can affect one side more than the other, depending on the location and severity of damage.

In left-sided congestive heart failure, the left side of the heart is damaged and unable to effectively pump blood from the heart to the body. This results in blood backing up into the lungs and increasing blood pressure in the lungs. The increase in pressure causes a buildup of fluid in the lungs, which can lead to a life-threatening condition called acute pulmonary edema.

In right-sided congestive heart failure, the right side of the heart is damaged and unable to effectively relax to permit blood flowing from the body back into the heart. This results in a backup of blood and an increase in pressure in the veins that carry blood from the body to the heart. In turn, this leads to swelling (edema) of the lower extremities and sometimes of other areas of the body.

Acute congestive heart failure, in which fluid builds up rapidly in the lungs and causes pulmonary edema, is an immediately life-threatening condition that can quickly lead to respiratory failure, cardiac arrest and death. Immediate emergency treatment best minimizes the risk of these and other serious complications of heart failure. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms of acute congestive heart failure, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, congested cough, and chest pain. If you do not have the above symptoms, but have swelling in the extremities, abdomen or face, seek prompt medical care.


What are the symptoms of congestive heart failure?

Symptoms of congestive heart failure are due to a lack of oxygen in the tissues of the body caused by a damaged heart that cannot pump blood efficiently. Symptoms can vary between individuals and can differ depending on the severity of the disease and the side of the heart affected (left side, right side, or both sides).

It is common to have some symptoms of both left-sided and ri... Read more about congestive heart failuresymptoms


What causes congestive heart failure?

Congestive heart failure is a common complication of heart diseases and conditions that damage the heart muscle or make it work too hard. This makes the heart weak and unable to pump blood effectively through the body. Diseases, disorders and conditions that can cause congestive heart failure include:


How is congestive heart failure treated?

Congestive heart failure is a complex disease that requires a treatment plan that uses a multifaceted approach that is individualized to the type and severity of your congestive heart failure, your risk factors, lifestyle, medical history, age, and other factors. Congestive heart failure is a serious, life-threatening disease, but it is not always fatal. The prognosis depends on the severity of... Read more about congestive heart failuretreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Heart, Blood and Circulation