Everything you need to know about congestive heart failure
Congestive Heart failure (CHF) simply referred to as heart failure is as old as humanity. Today, at least 6 million Americans have felt the wrath of heart failure. Each year, at least 0.67 million people around the globe are diagnosed CHF failure. Quite a significant number of cases go undiagnosed therefore it is impossible to put a precise figure to those who are affected by heart failure. For those aged 65 years and above, heart failure and its associated conditions are the main reasons for seeking medication and subsequent hospitalization. These statistics point towards a silent killer that is putting millions to bed and thousands to early grave each year. Needless to say, congestive heart failure life expectancy keeps taking a beating each year despite the huge leaps modern medicine and healthcare continue to make each day.
What really is Congestive Heart Failure?
Congestive Heart failure can be defined as the general weakness of the heart muscles. What this means is that the heart is not able to pump as much blood as the body needs at a particular time. This weakness can be attributed to a number of reasons. It could be age is finally catching up with you, your heart has significant damage, or that you have not been taking good care of your heart and it has now reached a tipping point.
Let’s get one thing clear, CHF does not in any way mean your heart has stopped doing its job. It is only falling short of your body’s expectations of blood circulation. An example would help put everything into context.
For an average size grown-up male or female, let’s say that he/she needs 6 liters (1.5 gallons) of blood going around the body in each minute. If his/her heart can only circulate 4 liters (1 gallon) of blood each minute, then this qualifies to be CHF. Hopefully that helps clear any cloud of confusion.
Putting a Face to the numbers behind CHF
The statistics behind CHF are not anything to smile about. Once diagnosed with heart failure, close to two-thirds of patients overly estimate their life expectancy by a margin of 40%. In the US alone, severe heart failure leads to 55,000 deaths each year. Deaths indirectly associated CHF stand at 230,000 per year in the US. You have to give credit where due, and this goes to the efforts done to help with diagnosis and treatment of Congestive Heart Failure. On this one, doctors and researchers have literary moved mountains to help patients live longer and lead normal lives as much as possible. However, CHF prognoses say that only 50% of patients can live up to 5 years after diagnosis. For severe heart failure cases, 90% of patients die within the first year of their diagnosis.
As you can see, there is a lot that has to be done to contain the effects of heart failure. It is a long way to go until when the CHF scourge can be effectively brought under control. This should not bleak the recent milestones achieved from different corners of the world.
Congestive Heart Failure Life Expectancy
Back in time when modern medicine was at its baby-step stage, any diagnosis with heart condition was considered an immediate death penalty. Thanks to relentless research and advanced technology, this is not the case anymore.
According to a case study done in 2016, approximately half of those diagnosed with CHF can live past five years after the diagnosis. However, this varies from one individual to the next due to a number of factors. There is a unanimous belief that early heart failure diagnosis significantly improves CHF life expectancy. It is also worth noting that the more advanced stage, the less life expectancy.
So far there is no known cure for CHF. However, doctors root for early diagnosis, lifestyle changes, and immediate treatment as some of the ways to tame the pangs of this condition and in turn greatly improve victims’ life expectancy.
Congestive Heart Failure Causes
Anything that affects the cardiovascular system can be said to be a potential cause of CHF. There is a score of diseases and conditions that tamper with the effectiveness of the heart thus leading to heart failure. The common known causes include:
- Heart attacks
When an artery is blocked, this blacks out the flow of blood to a certain heart muscle. Without blood, the affected muscle is damaged and no longer functions as expected. This simply explains what and how a heart attack leads to heart failure.
- Coronary Artery Diseases
Commonly abbreviated as CADs, coronary artery diseases are notorious causes of CHF. These diseases lead to constriction of arteries thus slowing down blood flow to the heart. With time, the disease takes its toll and can partially or totally block the arteries. When this happens, the heart hardly receives adequate oxygen and nutrients. The overall consequence is that the heart will not be able to pump adequate blood to all parts of the body.
When it is not heart muscle damage emanating from artery blockage, this is collectively referred to as cardiomyopathy. It could result from abuse of drugs and substance or heart infections.
- Any condition or disease that strains the heart
There is a long list of conditions and diseases that stress the heart and often lead it to overwork. These include kidney diseases, hypertension, diabetes, thyroid diseases, genetic diseases, and valve diseases.
Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms
At its onset, CHF symptoms may not be obvious or they sometimes come and go. Things get thick when the condition graduates to worse and now you can clearly see the symptoms. When it gets to severe heart failure, the symptoms are obvious and your health starts to drastically fail. In here, we will group the symptoms in three distinct clusters.
- Early Symptoms
- General body fatigue. Even without doing much, you will feel tired. It becomes quite a task to complete simple chores.
- Sudden weight gain. You begin to gain weight even when you are strictly checking what you eat.
- Accelerated urinating frequency at night. If you all over a sudden have to urinate three or more times at night, this is a sign that your heart is not entirely healthy.
- Swollen legs, feet, and ankle. You will wake up one day and notice that your legs are swollen. Another day it will be the ankles and the next day the feet.
- Mid-level symptoms
- Short breath. If you have to struggle catching your breath, this is a sign of pulmonary edema largely associated with heart failure.
- Breathing gets difficult and you make a wheezing sound when you breathe.
- Congested lungs leading to a cough. This cough tends to come down from the lungs due to congestion.
- Irregular heartbeats. A healthy heart should clock 72 heart beats in every minute. With heart failure, these beats become irregular and fall short of the normal tally.
- Severe symptoms
- It becomes common thing for you to faint.
- Chest pain spreading to the entire body.
- Bluish skin. This is associated with lack of adequate oxygen in the blood stream and lungs
- Brisk breathing. Even when you are simply seated, you suddenly have to breathe rapidly. This is an effort to make up for the less oxygen in the lungs.
Congestive Heart Failure Stages
The American Heart Association (AHA) in collaboration with the American College of Cardiology (ACC) back in 2001 classified heart failure into four stages. The stages were ratified and approved in 2005 and have been the conventional way of identifying the progressive nature of CHF. The stages also come with the recommended medication and suggested life style changes.
It is also important to note that the New York Heart Association (NYHA) has differently categorized CHF stages. The stages are classified as classes I to IV based on the seriousness of symptoms and set limits. However, in this article we will use the classification method adopted by both AHA and ACC. The stages are classified as shown in the table below:
|Stage||Definition/ Symptoms /those at high risk||Recommended Treatment|
|Stage A||This is also defined as the pre-CHF stage.Those at high risk for this CHF stage include:· Drug and substance abusers· Diabetic people· People with history for rheumatic fever, cardiomyopathy, CAD, and metabolic syndrome||· Regular physical exercise· Quitting alcohol and drug abuse· Using beta blockers for those with hypertension· Getting a prescription for CAD, diabetes and any other cardiovascular conditions|
|Stage B||It happens to people who may have never shown any symptoms for pre-CHF but have been diagnosed with systolic-left-ventricular dysfunctions.It is more prevalent to people who have had:· Heart attacks· Cardiomyopathy· and Valve diseases||· All treatments for Stage A apply· Surgery can be opted for valve and coronary artery repairs or replacements|
|Stage C||It is more common to people who have had a systolic heart failure.These symptoms are more common at this stage:· Fatigue· Short breath· Acute inability to exercise||· All treatments for Stage A apply· Fluid restriction· Weight monitoring· Biventricular pacemaker for certain cases· Aldosterone inhibitor for the worst case scenario|
|Stage D||Patients who show severe symptoms even after receiving maximum care and they often have systolic heart failures||· Treatments for stages A, B, and C apply· Patients can be put through evaluation to determine if they need a heart transplant, Hospice care, surgery or potential research therapy|
Congestive Heart Failure Treatment
There might be no a definitive cure for CHF, but there is an array of treatment options. Each treatment method is dependent on a number of factors such as the stage of heart failure, prevailing symptoms and the individual patient. Here below is a pool of heart failure treatment options:
There is a long list of heart failure medications. Once you get the prescription, it is prudent to take the medication as per the doctor’s instructions. Some of common medications include:
- Magnesium or potassium
- ACE inhibitors
- Calcium blockers (those with systolic heart failure should not use this)
- Blood vessels’ dilators
- Heart pump enhancing medications
- Aldosterone inhibitors
Surgeries and Medical Devices
To improve the working conditions of the heart, doctors may recommend various types of surgeries and exploration of medical devices.
- Bypass Surgery: This is mostly used in cases of blocked coronary arteries. It reroutes blood through a bypass to make sure all the heart muscles receive adequate oxygen and nutrients.
- Valve surgery: This is specifically done to repair or replace a damaged heart valve
- Infarct Exclusion surgery: also known as Dor procedure, this exclusion surgery is done to remove a scar left by a previous heart attack on the lower heart ventricle.
- Heart transplant: when the heart fails to show any response to any of the other treatments, it is time to make hard choices. One of those choices is going for a transplant.
- Ventricular Assist Devices (VADs): VADs are strategically positioned within the abdomen or chest and attached to the heart to help pump blood to all other body parts. The devices work best with the left ventricles but can also be used in the right ventricles.
- Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT): with a slow heart beat, your body will be in dire shortage of oxygen and nutrients. In such cases, doctors will recommend CRT, which simply is a pacemaker to direct electrical impulses to both the left and right ventricles to help them achieve better coordination when pumping blood.
- Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD): this device has a lot in common with a pacemaker. The difference is that it is tucked under the chest’s skin with wires tracking the veins back to the heart. The wires are designated to keep the patient’s heart rhythm on check. When the heartbeat stalls or goes out of rhythm, it is the work of the ICD to initiate a series of shocks or paces to return it to normal rhythm or speed.
- Lifestyle Changes
The heart is closer to what you eat and do more than you may think and the small adjustments you make in your life can make massive difference. Therefore, it is not a surprise that making certain lifestyle changes may prevent or greatly improve the quality of life for people with Congestive Heart Failure. Some of those changes you can begin making today include:
- Manage your weight: with heart failure there is a possibility of weight explosion. You need to stay in charge by monitoring your weight. Go to all lengths to make sure yours is a healthy weight
- Put a stop or limit alcohol intake: if you are into alcohol, it is time you bring down your daily intake. One beer or two a day will just be enough. If you can, go ahead and quit the bottle.
- Take exercise seriously: it is time you leave the comfort of your couch and go for a jog, walk, run, or do whatever your body can manage. If you can hardly partake in any form of physical activity, there are structured programs that your doctor can recommend.
- Check what is in your plate: It is about time you check what you eat. Stick to healthy foods with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, low fat proteins, legumes and nuts. You should limit your intake of salt, saturated fats, and red meat as well sweetened products.
- Stop smoking: every puff you make puts a lot of pressure to your heart and lungs. The heart paces and blood pressure spikes. To improve on your CHF symptoms, you should quit smoking for good.
- Limit caffeine intake: lots of caffeine in your blood system paces the heart and that is bad news for someone with heart failure. You should tone down your intake to a cup or two per day.
- Tame your stress triggers: stress is an enemy of your heart and general health. Find a way to identify your triggers and how to avoid them. You can try yoga, meditation or ask your doctor for some professional advice.
While modern healthcare and medication has seen massive improvements, heart failure is still a serious condition affecting the global population in millions and claiming thousands of lives each year. To steer away from the storm of CHF, experts recommend two-doctor visits each year. This would help early heart failure diagnosis and better odds to put things under control. There may be a myriad of treatment options for heart failure so far but none of them has 100% success of curing the condition. The ultimate solution lies with leading healthy lives both for CHF patients and the general population. Life changes have been praised as one of the most potent methods to putting a stop to the menace of heart failure. It is now your turn to adjust your life for the better and make informed choices. Being diagnosed with CHF is not a direct ticket to the grave; anyone can manage the situation and lead a normal healthy life. Mind your lifestyle and choices and help bring down the adverse CHF statistics.