Congestive heart failure is a serious medical condition marked by failure of the heart to pump adequate blood to other parts of the body. It is a potentially fatal condition with a number of causes. Congestive heart failure can be treated in most cases, possibly extending a person's life expectancy.
If you have congestive heart failure, your heart has trouble pumping the right amount of blood to the other organs in your body. While the word failure may sound as if your heart stops beating or working entirely, this is not the case. Your heart keeps working, but not well enough to support your health. According to information from the National Institutes of Health, the condition plays a role in 300,000 fatalities annually.
Many things can contribute to congestive heart failure. Coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are among the most frequent causes of the condition. Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries that carry blood to the heart narrow too much. High blood pressure means blood moves though the heart at a higher-than-desired pressure. Diabetes occurs when the body fails to produce insulin--a hormone that is necessary for converting sugar and other food into energy--or to use it as it should. Other causes include diseases that affect the heart valves, diseases of the heart muscle, heart defects and infection of valves or muscles of the heart.
You may not notice symptoms of congestive heart failure right away. A chronic case is one for which symptoms develop gradually and last for a long period of time. In acute cases, symptoms occur suddenly and are often more severe than in chronic cases. Whether the condition is acute or chronic, symptoms include fatigue, weakness, irregular heartbeat, loss of appetite and inability to exercise comfortably and normally. You may also have swelling of the legs, ankles, feet, abdomen, nausea, shortness of breath and concentration problems. Those with more severe cases tend to have much shorter life expectancies.
According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment for congestive heart failure may include medications and/or surgery. Medications may be used to control your heart rhythm, reduce blood pressure or treat underlying conditions that contribute to heart failure. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may need surgery to repair or replace a heart valve or even to treat narrowed arteries. In some cases, implantable devices may be used to control the heart’s pumping, and heart transplant surgery may be required to increase life expectancy in the most serious cases.
It is possible to live with congestive heart failure for years after it develops. According to Merck.com, fewer than than 30 percent of patients live longer than 10 years with the condition, and 50 percent of people with the most serious cases live for two years or longer. Treatment can improve life expectancy, but heart failure isn’t curable.