Congestive Heart Failure: What is CHF?

What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure, or CHF, is a chronic progressive condition that affects the pumping ability in your heart muscles. When a person has CHF, their heart has difficulty pumping blood out of the heart to other organs in their body. This occurs because the ventricle walls, which are responsible for pumping blood throughout the body, weaken and become too thin. In result, the blood stays in the ventricle instead of pumping it out.

Stages of CHF

Congestive heart failure has four stages based on the severity of symptoms. The progression of CHF is linked with a life-expectancy of only 5 years when left untreated.

Stage 1:

People with stage 1 CHF or pre-CHF have conditions that are affecting the heart like chronic high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary artery disease. At this stage, people have no problems with the structure of the heart or its functions. They will also not show any symptoms with typical physical activity.

Stage 2:

At this stage, people may have minor symptoms but are otherwise still healthy. Often, people have or have had heart complication without definite symptoms of heart failure, like an enlarged left ventricle or a heart attack. CHF at this point is manageable with lifestyle changes, medication, and close monitoring.

Stage 3:

During stage 3 people will be showing or have shown symptoms of CHF because of a structural heart condition. They experience symptoms regularly and have troubles with daily tasks. Most likely individuals are comfortable at rest, but show fatigue, feel heart palpitations, or exhibit shortness of breath. Treatment is difficult at this stage and it is best to be in close contact with your doctor.

Stage 4:

Once stage 4 CHF is reached, symptoms are present, even at rest. Stage 4 CHF has no cure and may require extensive medical and surgical treatment just to manage.


Congestive heart failure symptoms can vary depending on the stage and whether an individual has other medical conditions. In early stages, you won’t notice any changes to your health, but if it progresses, you can experience gradual changes in your body.

The most common symptoms of CHF are:

  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, abdomen, or hands
  • Feeling tired even when well rested
  • Shortness of breath or troubled breathing
  • Changes in memory or train-of-thought
  • Nausea and lowered appetite
  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • A consistent, unexplained cough

How is CHF Diagnosed?

Most likely after you report symptoms to your doctor they will refer you to a cardiologist. They will perform a physical exam and listen to your heart. However, to be certain they will recommend additional testing such as an MRI, stress test, and blood test to examine the heart valves, blood vessels, and chambers.

How is CHF Treated?

To treat CHF, doctors need to reduce the amount of fluid in the body to ease the strain on the heart and improve the heart’s ability to pump blood. Depending on your overall health and which stage of CHF you are exhibiting, your treatment can vary.

Most commonly doctors will prescribe you an angiotensin-converting enzyme, an ACE inhibitor, to help effectively pump blood out of the heart valves. In some cases, doctors add a “beta-blocker” to support the ACE inhibitor and control your heart rate. To eliminate more liquid, doctors will not hesitate to prescribe a diuretic. If you are in later stages, surgery may be necessary to insert valves or even a heart transplant.

No matter the stage of CHF, doctors recommend patients to make lifestyle changes with diet and exercise to target fluid retention. The changes could help slow the condition and increase their patient’s quality of life. Eliminating excess salt and alcohol will cause the body to retain less fluid. Doctor’s suggest patients monitor their weight daily for sudden weight gain or loss to check for fluid retention.

Each person will experience CHF in their own way.  People will receive a different life-expectancy with the condition depending on the stage of CHF and individual health history. The symptoms of CHF can be managed and a person’s quality of life enhanced by treatment and lifestyle changes. Working with a doctor is the most crucial step to take in your individual treatment plan against CHF.

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