The Mayo Clinic defines congestive heart failure (CHF) as "blood backing up into---or congesting---the liver, abdomen, lower extremities and lungs." The heart fails to pump sufficient blood to the vital organs, leading to a breakdown of the body's functioning. Whether chronic (symptoms develop over time) or acute (rapid onset of symptoms), chances of survival with CHF increases significantly with rapid and effective medical intervention.
Types and Location of CHF
CHF may be related to systolic (contraction of the heart muscle) or diastolic (relaxation of the heart muscle) heart function. Severe symptoms can depend on whether CHF presents itself on the right side or the left side of the heart, or both.
Left Side CHF
A persistent, dry cough or shortness of breath while sleeping and a pink, frothy foam in the mouth are severe symptoms of left-sided CHF. These symptoms may be an indicative of an accumulation of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), which is a life-threatening condition. The left ventricle (pumping chamber) could also fail to pump or fill up with blood.
Right Side CHF
Swelling due to excess fluid retention in the ankles, feet, abdomen, and calves is indicative of CHF in the right side of the heart. An unexplained weight gain could be attributed to the accumulation of excess salt, blood and other fluids. The individual may experience abdominal pain, nausea and decreased appetite. Because the supply of blood into the heart is reduced, a heart attack may result, which is a common precursor to CHF. The excess fluid retention in the body (resulting in swelling in several areas) related to right side CHF can lead to frequent urination, particularly during night time.
Both Sections CHF
If you experience both left and right side symptoms, you could have CHF in both sections of the heart. Symptoms are varied and include tachycardia (rapid heart rate), a drop in blood pressure, dizziness, severe shortness of breath, clammy and cold skin, sweating and a wheezing sound while breathing.
CHF can also lead to cognitive disfunction, including confusion, disorientation, and a rapid deterioration in mental faculties such as memory and judgement.