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What is congestive heart failure?

Nov 4, 2016
 Kris Vijay MD, medical director of Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital’s Institute for Congestive Heart Failure, explains congestive heart failure.

Congestive heart failure does not mean that the heart has stopped beating, but rather that it is not pumping efficiently. As a result, the body does not get the nutrient-rich blood and oxygen it needs.

Congestive heart failure afflicts more than 5.7 million Americans. It is characterized by a build-up of fluids and sodium in the body’s tissues. This can cause shortness of breath, respiratory distress, swelling in the legs, ankles and other parts of the body.

In those with heart failure, the heart may try to compensate by enlarging or stretching to pump more blood; pump faster to accelerate the heart’s output; or build more muscle mass to pump a normal amount of blood through the body. Also, blood flow may be jeopardized to organs such as the kidneys.

Question: What are the causes of congestive heart failure?

Answer: The most common factor contributing to heart failure is coronary heart disease, which is secondary to blocked arteries supplying the heart. Risk factors for blocked arteries include hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and chronic kidney diseases.

Other factors contributing to heart failure include valvular heart disease, congenital heart defects, lung disease, some forms of cancer and some cancer medications as well as alcohol and drug abuse that affect the heart muscle directly.

Question: How can congestive heart failure be treated?

Answer: While the number of people with heart failure is growing, so are the treatment options. Some medications such as ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, aldosterone blockers and beta-blockers may inhibit some neurohormones and may improve the heart pump function.

Diuretics may eliminate fluids retained in the body as a result of heart failure. Newer medications also may reduce hospitalization and may improve survival.

Angioplasty (a procedure to open up blocked arteries), stents or bypass surgeries may be considered.

Other options may include heart valve repair or replacement, and fixing the congenital defects with devices or surgery. Pacemaker and defibrillators also may improve outcomes in heart failure. New treatments for heart failure are the focus of national research trials at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital.

Abrazo Community Health Network is presenting free heart health seminars. For more information, call 855-292-9355.

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