Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is a medical condition, in which, the heart is unable to meet the body's need for blood supply. It's important to understand that CHF is not the same as heart disease - cardiomyopathy, myocardial infarction, or cardiac arrest for instance, but is one of the causative factors that may lead to these conditions. Congestive heart failure does not indicate that the heart has stopped working; in fact it's a condition that people can live with for prolonged period, with several episodes of heart failure over time. This is a common but dangerous medical condition, which can have significant impact on daily life and physical capabilities. It essentially has four progressive stages, and the symptoms for each vary with the progression of the disease. Discussed below are the causes, stages, and symptoms of this condition.
There are a number of causes that can give rise to the symptoms of congestive heart failure. Some of these include a family history of coronary disease, congenital heart defects, damage to the heart valves, earlier episodes of cardiac arrests, or chronic high blood pressure.
CHF begins with slight feelings of fatigue, which could show up when exercising, or may be experienced as a general feeling of tiredness or exhaustion. Since this is an unspecific symptom, it's not unusual for people, who suffer from the first stage of CHF, to put it down to overwork, stress, or age. Mild weakness may also accompany the feeling of fatigue, but generally, the initial symptoms rarely manifest as a cause for concern. The initial stages may be accompanied by symptoms that very often do not create much concern. As the stages progress, the symptoms manifest in myriad ways, often leaving a debilitating effect on the life of an affected person.
The second stage of CHF is generally accompanied by the inability to perform routine exercises, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and in some cases, episodes of angina. Mild exercise can cause extreme discomfort, which may be relieved to some extent with rest.
In the third stage, the patient is comfortable only when at rest. Daily activities can cause extreme shortness of breath, wheezing, and persistent cough. Physical activity becomes severely limited. The typical symptoms of congestive heart failure in this stage are weakness, dizziness or fainting, swollen feet and ankles resulting from fluid buildup, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, and increased frequency of urination, especially at night.
The fourth stage of CHF is also the final stage. The patient may experience discomfort even when at rest, and may be unable to perform any daily activities. Basic movements can cause strain on the heart, palpitations, a persistent, dry, hacking cough, and a bluish tinge on the skin may develop.
The pathophysiology of congestive heart failure is extremely complex. Since, it can be caused by any condition, which reduces the efficiency of the human heart, the underlying causes may be as varied as amyloidosis (protein deposits on the heart muscles, causing stiffness), myocardial infarction, or hypertension. The overriding effect of the factors that lead to this condition is, reduced cardiac output and an increase in the strain on the heart. The treatment of this condition changes according to the stage; initially, specific prescription drugs such as ACE inhibitors are used, which expand the blood vessels, thereby increasing the blood flow, and beta blockers that lower blood pressure.
As the stages of this heart failure condition progress, surgery may be of some help. As the heart gets weaker, simple tasks become more and more difficult. In some cases, a heart transplant may succeed, but the conditions that allow for this extremely complex form of surgery are not always available. Although, prevention may not be entirely in your hands, understanding the early warning symptoms, and following a healthy lifestyle can help in the reduction of risk associated with this medical condition.