Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, impacting 659,000 people every year. It’s most common in people over age 65. Congestive heart failure is a life-threatening condition caused by various forms of heart disease and other complications. While the term failure makes it seem like your heart has stopped working, it just means your heart is pumping too slowly to meet your body’s needs. It’s a serious condition that you must monitor and manage carefully.
Congestive heart failure becomes progressively worse over time. While it’s a chronic condition, catching it early gives you a greater chance of living a longer and healthier life. The signs of congestive heart failure range from mild to severe, which is why it’s important to monitor your health as you age. This guide will explain the early signs of congestive heart failure so you can seek testing and treatment as soon as possible.
What Is Congestive Heart Failure?
Congestive heart failure is a chronic condition that results from other cardiovascular issues, such as:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
- Valve disease
- Congenital heart defects
Having one or more of these conditions weakens your heart muscle until it can no longer pump blood at the necessary rate. The muscle struggles to keep up, placing even more pressure and strain on your heart.
The decreased blood flow restricts the oxygen and nutrients that fuel your entire body. As a result, the kidneys respond by retaining excess fluid that builds up throughout the body. The mixture of water and salt may congest your arms, legs, ankles, feet, liver and lungs, hence the name congestive heart failure.
There are four stages — A, B, C and D. The stages start with a high risk of developing heart disease and increase to advanced heart failure. Once you reach the next stage, you can never go back, which is why it’s crucial to catch it early so you can start treatment to slow the progression.
What Are the Warning Signs of Congestive Heart Failure?
Knowing the warning signs of heart failure will increase your chances of recognizing if you or a loved one have developed this condition. Here’s what you should look out for:
Signs of Early Heart Failure
In the beginning stages of heart failure, symptoms tend to be milder. Be on the lookout for the following signs:
- Swelling: Heart failure causes fluid retention that can collect throughout the body. Congestion is common in the limbs and vital organs, making them appear swollen.
- Weight gain: The excess fluid from heart failure may cause a sudden weight gain.
- Fatigue: The lack of blood flow can leave you feeling more tired than usual. Daily activities like shopping or going for a walk become exhausting.
- Frequent urination: The excess fluid from your kidneys may result in increased urination, especially at night.
Signs of Heart Failure Progression
As heart failure progresses, your symptoms will most likely worsen. You may also begin to experience:
- Shortness of breath: Fluid may leak into the lungs, causing breathlessness, especially during physical activity. As your condition progresses, this symptom may also occur while you’re at rest.
- Irregular heartbeat: A weakened heart may develop arrhythmia or an irregular heartbeat. You may feel like your heart is racing, fluttering or skipping a beat.
- Coughing: Because heart failure may cause fluid to build up in your lungs, you may experience persistent coughing. Some people cough up white mucus tinged with blood.
- Confusion or memory loss: A lack of nutrients in your blood can cause confusion and disorientation.
- Abdominal pain: Restricted blood flow to your digestive system makes it challenging for your body to process food. You may lose your appetite or feel sick to your stomach. Fluid retention may also cause swelling and pain in this area.
Signs of Advanced Heart Failure
In the advanced stages of heart failure, you may develop:
- Chest pain: The increased pressure and strain on your heart can cause chest pain.
- Fainting: During heart failure, you’re unable to pump enough oxygen-rich blood to your brain, which may cause fainting.
- Panting or wheezing: If your lungs are congested with fluid, it may become challenging to take a deep breath.
- Discolored skin: The lack of oxygen in your blood can make the skin around your lips, fingers and toes look blue. This condition is called cyanosis.
Make sure you update your health care provider about any new or worsening symptoms on this list. You should seek emergency medical treatment if you suddenly develop chest pain or other signs of advanced heart failure.
How to Treat and Prevent Congestive Heart Failure
Treatment for heart failure varies depending on the severity of your condition. Adopting a healthy lifestyle tends to significantly impact treating and preventing congestive heart failure. If you form these habits early, you can lower your risk of developing heart failure in the first place. Consider the following strategies to prevent heart failure:
- Avoid smoking: People who smoke are 2-4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease that can lead to heart failure.
- Eat healthy foods: Eating primarily fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, healthy fats and lean protein promotes your heart health and overall well-being.
- Stay active: Exercising regularly is great for your heart, and it helps control your weight. Maintaining a healthy weight lowers your risk of heart failure.
- Take care of yourself: Many types of heart disease can lead to heart failure. If you have an existing cardiovascular condition, monitor and manage it carefully. Take your medications as prescribed to maintain your heart health.
For most people, heart failure is a lifelong condition. Fortunately, treatment can reduce your symptoms and increase your chances of enjoying a long and healthy life. Here are some treatment options to slow the progression of congestive heart failure:
- Healthy lifestyle: Taking care of your body with a healthy diet and exercise can help strengthen your heart. Your doctor may also recommend cutting out salt to help reduce fluid retention and caffeine to prevent heartbeat irregularities.
- Medication: Modern medications can help improve your heart function and increase your life expectancy. Taking your medicine as prescribed can help you manage your condition and slow the progression of heart failure.
- Surgery: In the advanced stages of heart failure, doctors may recommend surgery to manage your heart health. Some common surgeries include a bypass to open blocked arteries, heart valve replacement or device implantation. The leading devices for treating heart failure are pacemakers, implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and remote monitoring devices. In rare cases, you may need a heart transplant.
Monitor Your Health With Modern Heart and Vascular
Catching cardiac conditions in the earliest stages gives you the greatest chance of living a long and healthy life. At Modern Heart and Vascular, we provide advanced testing with state-of-the-art diagnostic tools. We focus on prevention to avoid unnecessary surgeries and procedures.
Our compassionate staff is dedicated to providing the highest quality patient care. We’ll answer all your questions and fully explain your treatment options, so you feel in control of your heart health.
We provide modern cardiovascular care for modern patients using modern technology. For more information about Modern Heart and Vascular Institute or to schedule an appointment, contact us today. If you’d like to learn more about our practice, read our providers’ bios.
This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930.