Congestive heart failure is one of the most frequent pathologies in the cardiovascular field. This is because there are many things that can trigger it.
This means that your heart is failing and cannot pump blood properly.
Let’s make it easy: imagine for a second that you try to throw water from a bucket with your hands. Imagine it’s only 2 liters of water, it’s easy, right? However, what if you progressively filled that bucket with more and more water? Would it be just as easy?
It wouldn’t. This is what happens to your heart. Something is altering its normal structure and increasing its size, causing more blood to build up inside it and making it more difficult for it to pump blood into our cardiovascular circuit.
Pay attention to the cause because that is what we really need to treat.
Why Does Congestive Heart Failure Occur?
As we mentioned earlier, there are many likely causes of congestive heart failure. However, we want to highlight something that not everyone knows. Just as there are hundreds of causes, there are hundreds of risk factors that can increase the likelihood that you will develop this condition. Among these are:
- Congenital heart abnormalities (such as valve failure, or alterations in ventricular structure).
- High blood pressure.
- Infections (especially those affecting valves).
- Heart arrhythmias (irregular rhythm).
- Alcohol / Cigarette / Drugs.
Under normal conditions, talking about causes, we can mention two that stand out among this huge group.
The first is coronary disease, the famous myocardial infarctions, where an ischemic event (absence of oxygen) conditions our heart and does not allow it to function properly. This is, without a doubt, one of the most frequent.
In this group, we also highlight the most important chronic pathology in the world, arterial hypertension. This is a very frequent cause of congestive heart failure because patients do not understand the importance of taking care of their health. Including taking their medication on time and attending their regular check-ups. If hypertension is controlled, there is no great risk of it becoming complicated.
Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure:
The manifestations of this disease depend directly on the sector of your heart that it affects. It is not the same as the right heart failure than the left one, it is about different chambers of your heart that can trigger other kinds of problems. However, the most frequent symptoms, in general, are:
- Difficulty breathing: Not only while doing some important physical activity, but even at rest. Shortness of breath is one of the most frequent alterations that can bring us closer to the diagnosis of congestive heart failure.
- Swelling: Most often the legs and ankles appear larger as the day progresses, especially in the late afternoon or evening.
- Coughing: not only during the day or while doing any physical activity, no matter how mild, but also when we go to sleep and are in a completely horizontal position. This is because water accumulates in our lungs.
- Fatigue: Fatigue is a classic and important symptom. It can be confused with other diseases, but almost always accompanies heart failure
- Other symptoms: not only can there be alterations in the heart, such as palpitations and rhythm disorders, but also nausea, vomiting, dizziness, vertigo or fainting.
Diagnosis: How Examine If I Have Congestive Heart Failure?
The only real truth is that you should see a doctor. Your cardiologist is the only one who can determine if you really have a disorder in your heart that is of concern. However, here is a summary of some of the possible techniques and tests your doctor will use to diagnose your case:
- Physical exam: the first thing is a general evaluation, which is also accompanied by your history and the various previous illnesses or alterations you have had during your life. This is the best way to start the diagnosis.
- Echocardiogram: Ultrasound has proven to be crucial to properly diagnose heart failure. In fact, it is known as the “gold standard”, since it not only gives us the information regarding the diagnosis but also allows us to know the degree of your heart condition.
- Blood tests: there are many values that we must consult, not only the common ones (such as the hemogram), but your doctor must check the state of your kidneys (urea and creatinine), how your blood flows and the various pressure mediators (BNP, electrolytes, etc.). These are many tests for complete control.
- Chest X-rays: in order to know the involvement in your lungs, it is also necessary to perform chest X-rays that allow us to rule out (or confirm) the presence of water in spaces where it should not be.
- Other tests: there are many variations and aspects, the truth is that magnetic resonances, computerized axial tomography or even cardiac catheterization may be needed. Of course, basic tests such as the electrocardiogram, among others, are performed together.
Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure: What can I do?
Depending on the cause and severity of the insufficiency, it is possible to use multiple medications. Even so, it is necessary to emphasize that only your doctor can indicate them. Among the various options that exist, we have:
- Anticoagulants: crucial to reduce the risk of possible complications of congestive heart failure.
- ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting-enzyme ): these are the classic antihypertensive drugs that also take care of our kidneys.
- ARNIS inhibitors (angiotensin receptor neprilysin inhibitor): medication for heart failure patients with a reduced ejection fraction.
- Beta-blockers: we need to give the tired heart some rest since it’s constantly trying to expel more blood than normal. To do this, we use beta-blockers, which reduce the frequency and strength of the contraction.
- Statins: Cholesterol is our number one enemy. To appease it, statins are the best option.
- Diuretics: since one of the most prominent complications of congestive heart failure is the accumulation of fluid in abnormal sites, diuretics can be used to help our bodies expel these fluids.
- Monitoring your electrocardiogram (ECG / EKG): heart well being can change quite drastically even because of seemingly innocent things. Like nutrition, fatigue, physical activities, etc. Therefore it is necessary to follow your heart measurements regularly to decrease any risk. Nowadays ECG / EKG solutions allow doing that quickly, anywhere, anytime on top of that contacting patient with doctor trough the digital world.
Without a doubt, there are many options that could even include heart transplantation. However, this should be decided by your doctor after properly studying your case. Even so, heart failure is an almost irreversible condition, so symptom and progression control is critical.
Congestive heart failure is advanced disease, with many quite delicate clinical manifestations that we must learn to recognize, especially if we suffer from basal heart disease or if we have several associated risk factors. The good news is that there are treatments available that can significantly improve the quality of life. That is why it is important to see your cardiologist early and avoid worse complications or even death.