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Congestive heart failure is a frightening diagnosis, but with the right lifestyle changes and medication the condition can be managed.

A diagnosis of congestive heart failure may sound like the heart has stopped beating, which is not the case. Although the condition can be serious, it is often successfully treated in order to decrease symptoms and improve a person’s ability to function normally.

Understanding a CHF Diagnosis

Congestive heart failure does not mean the heart stops beating.

Instead, it means the heart is not beating or pumping blood to the organs of the body as well as it should.

Your heart is a muscle, which pumps blood to organs and tissues of the body. As with any muscle, it can become weak. When the heart becomes weak, it does not beat as strong or forcefully as it needs to. The condition is chronic, and the heart can become progressively weaker overtime, especially if lifestyle changes and treatment are not implemented. Either side of the heart can be affected.

Because blood is not pumped through the body normally, a variety of symptoms can develop.

When the heart is not working efficiently, it can cause problems with the kidneys and fluid can buildup in the body. Shortness of breathing due to fluid accumulation in the lungs is a common symptom of congestive heart failure.

Swelling of the feet and ankles are also common. Many people with congestive heart failure also experience fatigue. The extent of fatigue often is related to the stage of the disease. For example, people with mild CHF may develop fatigue after exercise. While individuals with severe CHF may have fatigue as they do everyday activities, such as bathing or eating. 

Causes of Congestive Heart Failure

According to John Hopkins Medicine, congestive heart failure is very common and is the number one reason people over the age of 60 are hospitalized.

Any condition that causes damage to the heart can lead to heart failure. One of the most common causes of heart failure is a previous heart attack. During a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is reduced or cut off. Part of the heart is damaged. A damaged heart is weak and cannot pump blood as forcefully as it once did. 

Congestive heart failure can be caused by a variety of other conditions, such as high blood pressure. Chronic high blood pressure makes the heart work harder. As time goes on, the heart eventually become weaker from having an increased workload.

People with diabetes may also develop damage to their heart and heart failure may follow. Certain chronic lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive lung disease, may also may lead to congestive heart failure. In people with COPD, their oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange is impaired, which makes the heart work harder.  

Although it is more common in adults, children can also develop congestive heart failure. In children, the condition is most commonly due to a congenial heart problem, such as cardiomyopathy.   

Heart failure is classified from I to IV based on the severity of symptoms and the extent functioning is compromised.

For example, class I heart failure involves mild symptoms, such as slight fatigue. There are usually no limitations on physical activity for people with this class of congestive heart failure.

The worst class of heart failure is class IV. People who have this class are in severe heart failure. Symptoms, such as trouble breathing, are present even at rest, which makes carrying out normal daily activities difficult.

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