Congestive heart failure affects more than 6 million Americans. Here’s what you should know about the condition.

First things first, what’s the difference between congestive heart failure and heart failure? Congestive heart failure is technically a specific type of heart failure that requires prompt medical attention, but the two names are typically used interchangeably.

While heart failure may sound like your heart is suddenly going to stop working, that’s actually not what happens. Congestive heart failure occurs when your heart isn’t pumping as effectively as it should be. This usually happens gradually over time, not as a sudden failure.

Who’s at risk of congestive heart failure?

While anyone can develop the condition, there are certain factors that put you at a higher risk.

Risk factors include:

  • Being African American
  • Being age 65 or older
  • Drinking a large amount of alcohol
  • Eating a diet high in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar
  • Having a family history of heart failure
  • Having chronic medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, or thyroid disease
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Using illegal drugs

While some risk factors, such as your race, age, or family medical history can’t be changed, you can take steps to eliminate other risk factors by living a healthier lifestyle.

What are the symptoms of congestive heart failure?

Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to keep the body functioning effectively. When your heart is pumping efficiently, it distributes oxygenated blood to organs and tissues throughout the body.

As the heart begins to fail, your heart can’t supply the body’s cells with enough oxygen and nutrients. This can wreak havoc on the body, causing a variety of symptoms.

Interestingly enough, symptoms vary depending on the side of the heart that’s failing. Left-sided heart failure may cause breathing issues, a cough, extreme fatigue, weakness, a bluish skin color and an inability to sleep while lying flat. Right-sided heart failure, on the other hand, may cause nausea, a loss of appetite, abdominal pain, swelling in the extremities, an increased need to urinate and weight gain.

How Is Congestive Heart Failure Treated?

Congestive heart failure is a progressive condition, and there’s no cure. The goal of treatment is to slow down the progress of the condition.

If you’re diagnosed with congestive heart failure, your doctor will recommend you build heart-healthy habits. This includes getting to and maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, finding healthy ways to manage stress, prioritizing quality sleep, and managing other health conditions.

Diet plays a particularly important role, and your doctor will recommend limiting sodium intake. Sodium can increase fluid buildup in the body, making symptoms worse.

In addition to healthy habits, your treatment will also include interventions designed to treat the individual symptoms you’re experiencing and slow the progress of the condition. This may include medications, as well as surgical treatment in severe cases.

Why Choose Georgia Heart Institute?

With one of the most established and innovative heart failure programs in the state, the Heart Failure Center at Georgia Heart Institute offers the complete spectrum of specialized services to treat this progressive condition. With four fellowship-trained heart failure cardiologists, and an entire dedicated team, the Heart Failure Center of Georgia Heart Institute ensures every patient receives the most innovative care designed specifically for them. Ultimately, this keeps patients’ hearts at their healthiest and enjoy an improved quality of life.

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