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Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure is a serious condition that can lead to swelling (edema) in the abdomen and lower extremities. 

As its name suggests, congestive heart failure is a type of heart failure that occurs when blood essentially becomes “congested” within the body. When the heart stops being able to pump blood as efficiently as it should, blood returns to the heart faster than the heart can pump it back out to the rest of the body. Blood can then back up and force its way through the walls of blood vessels, leading to fluid buildup within the lungs, liver, abdomen and lower body. 

It’s important to promptly seek treatment for congestive heart failure, since this condition can lead to a number of issues. For example: 

  • To accommodate the buildup of blood, the heart can become enlarged and pump faster than it should. 
  • In order to maintain blood pressure levels, the blood vessels may narrow. 
  • If fluid builds up within the lungs (pulmonary edema), it can cause shortness of breath and eventually lead to respiratory distress if left untreated. 
  • If the kidneys don’t receive enough oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood, they can start retaining sodium and water, which can result in kidney failure.

Causes of Congestive Heart Failure 

Congestive heart failure typically results from another cardiovascular condition, such as coronary artery disease. Some of the risk factors that can make someone more likely to develop coronary artery disease, and eventually congestive heart failure, include: 

  • Having high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol or diabetes 
  • Eating a poor diet 
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle 
  • Being overweight 
  • Smoking 
  • Feeling stressed 

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure 

One of the most common symptoms of congestive heart failure is swelling (edema), particularly within the abdomen, legs, ankles and feet. Other symptoms may include: 

  • Abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia) 
  • Chest pain 
  • Fatigue 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Coughing 
  • Wheezing 
  • Fainting 
  • A feeling of confusion or disorientation 
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Nausea 
  • Unexplained weight gain 
  • Frequent urination 

Diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure 

Physicians use a number of different tests to diagnose congestive heart failure, including: 

  • Blood tests 
  • Cardiac catheterization 
  • Chest X-rays 
  • Echocardiograms 
  • Electrocardiograms (EKGs) 
  • Event monitors 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans 
  • Stress tests 

Treatment for Congestive Heart Failure 

Because there’s currently no cure for congestive heart failure, treatment is generally aimed at slowing the progression of the condition and relieving any resulting symptoms. The cardiovascular specialists at Tampa General Hospital may recommend: 

  • Lifestyle changes such as minimizing sodium, caffeine and fluid intake 
  • Medication 
  • Surgery (in more severe cases, a heart transplant may be required)