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Congestive heart failure involves a weakening of the heart so that it can't pump blood efficiently around to the rest of the body and blood/fluid backs up into the lungs or the body. It is a chronic condition that rarely comes on suddenly. It can affect the right side of the heart or the left hand side of the heart or both. It is more common to have both sides of the heart affected. The condition is called systolic heart failure if the heart cannot pump blood out of the heart. If the heart muscle is stiff and cannot fill up normally in diastole, it is called diastolic heart failure. Both affect the function of the heart during exercise or at rest.

Fluid can build up in the lungs, causing pulmonary oedema. It can also build up in the abdomen, the liver and the gastrointestinal tract, causing ascites or fluid build-up in the abdomen. Finally, it can cause oedema of the legs and, less commonly, the arms.

The biggest precursor to congestive heart failure is coronary artery disease, which is a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply oxygenation to the heart. This weakens the heart because it doesn't have enough blood supply to function. An infection can weaken the heart and can cause cardiomyopathy. The result is a weakened heart that has been weakened by bacteria or viruses.

Other causes of congestive heart failure include having a congenital heart disease, a valvular disease of the heart, an abnormal heart rhythm or a heart attack. Emphysema, hyperthyroidism, severe anaemia or low thyroid conditions can contribute to your getting congestive heart failure.

Symptoms of congestive heart failure or CHF include the slow onset of symptoms such as being short of breath during exercise or when lying flat, cough, which may be productive of thin sputum, foot and ankle swelling, abdominal swelling, weight gain from fluid retention, change in pulse, palpitations, problems sleeping with fatigue, weakness and feelings of going to pass out, indigestion and a lack of appetite.

You can have nausea and vomiting, problems with urinating during the night, decreased urine production during the day and decreased alertness due to lack of oxygenation of the brain. In infants, there may be sweating during activity or feeding. Some people only have symptoms of CHF during episodes of anaemia, low thyroid condition, high fever, kidney disease or arrhythmias.

Examinations and tests for congestive heart failure include a physical that shows crackles in the lungs from excess fluids. These crackles are called "rales". There can be oedema of the legs or abdominal bloating, an irregular heartbeat or extended neck veins from back up of blood. The liver may be enlarged from fluid collection.

Doctors can detect congestive heart failure using a chest x-ray that can show fluid in the lungs. An ECG can show rhythm abnormalities and an echocardiogram can show the weakened areas of the heart and the slow blood flow. Stress tests of the heart can be important to the diagnosis and a CT scan of the heart can show thickening of the heart muscle or dilation of the heart. A cardiac catheterisation can outline the shape of the heart and can tell whether or not there is narrowing of the coronary arteries. Multiple blood tests can show abnormalities of the liver, kidneys and urine from congestive heart failure.

The treatment of congestive heart failure includes regular follow up with your doctor. You'll need to follow your weight daily and stay away from salt in your diet. Weight gain can mean your condition is worsening. Do not smoke and stay as active as you can be because this strengthens the heart. If you are overweight, you should try to lose weight. Make sure you get plenty of rest.

Medications for CHF include ACE inhibitors, which open the blood vessels and take the stress off the heart. Diuretics are used to draw fluid off the body. Digitalis or digoxin is used to strengthen the heart muscle and increase the force of the beat. Angiotensin receptor blockers act like ACE inhibitors can be used to decrease the workload of the heart. Beta blockers are used in some people to slow the heart and reduce the workload on the heart.

A pacemaker may be used to regulate the heart beat and an implantable defibrillator may be used if the heart stops or goes into a bad rhythm. In very severe cases an intra-aortic balloon pump can be used to assist the heart as can a left ventricular assist device. A heart transplant is usually curative and is reserved for the worst cases.

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Medical Negligence Solicitors

Our personal injury solicitors operate a specialist medical negligence compensation service. Our Congestive Heart Failure solicitors deal with claims using a no win no fee arrangement which means that if you don�t win then you don�t pay them their professional costs. If you would like legal advice at no cost with no further obligation just complete the contact form or email our lawyers offices or use the helpline and a Congestive Heart Failure solicitor will review your medical negligence compensation claim and phone you immediately.

HELPLINE: ☎ 1800 633 634

The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here