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When speaking previously about Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), one of the causes discussed was damage to the heart. So how exactly does that happen? Unfortunately, long standing coronary artery disease, or CAD, is one of the key factors. CAD occurs when the blood vessels supplying the heart with blood and oxygen are narrowed, often from a cholesterol buildup. If the lack of oxygen is severe enough, it can result in a heart attack or myocardial infarction (also referred to as an MI). The area of the heart that did not receive the oxygen is then permanently scarred or damaged, which can range from mild to severe damage.
One other common cause of CHF is long-standing high blood pressure or hypertension, which causes the heart to strain and work harder. Someone who is diabetic, or who has kidney or thyroid disease are at a higher risk of causing this stress on the heart. There are several valves in the heart, which can be damaged either from infection or a birth defect, which result in the valves not fully opening or closing fully. Any combination of these conditions can result in CHF. So when you think of these moving parts, keep thinking of your heart as the machine that it is.
On the other hand, if the right side of the heart is damaged, then the blood trying to enter the heart backs up to the liver and the lower body. The back up usually continues to the legs, so you will see swelling in the legs and feet. Additional symptoms associated with heart failure include fatigue, shortness of breath, weight gain and limited endurance.
So now what – how do you treat or manage CHF?
Your physician will be one of your primary guides here, as there may need to be specific testing done to determine what type of heart failure you have, and to what degree. That information will then point the physician in the direction of how best to treat the CHF. Often there is a combination of treatments, which include lowering salt intake, limiting fluid intake, monitoring weights every day or two, and even doing aerobic exercise. In addition to these lifestyle changes, the physician will often prescribe a combination of medications to lower blood pressure, control cholesterol and even fluid retention. Again, all treatments, including exercise, should be done under the auspices of a physician.
Overall, for your heart’s health, please consider discussing your risk factors for developing heart disease and CHF in order to see if you can make some lifestyle changes now. The payback may be huge – a happy, healthy heart! Have you or a loved one recently experienced any mild or serious heart problems? What treatment are you (they) actively pursuing?
Author: Cheryl A. Acres RN, CCM