Congestive heart disease is a physical disorder in which the heart no longer pumps hard enough. Since the heart pumps weakly, blood can back up into the lungs, liver, gastrointestinal tract, and extremities.
Congestive heart disease is also called congestive heart failure (CHF), cardiac failure, or heart failure. These names can be misleading, since they seem to indicate that the heart has totally failed and that death is imminent. This is not the case. Congestive heart disease is nearly always a chronic, long-term condition, although it does sometimes develop suddenly.
How Common Is Congestive Heart Disease?
Of 100 people between the ages of 27 and 74, approximately 2 have congestive heart disease. That means about 6 million people in the U.S. are affected by the disease. After age 74, congestive heart disease becomes more common. It is said to be the leading cause of hospitalization among senior citizens.
Causes of Congestive Heart Disease
Congestive heart disease has many causes. They include, but are not limited to, the following causes:
* Weakening of the heart muscle due to viral infections. The weakness may also be caused by toxins such as alcohol abuse.
* Weakening of the heart muscle by coronary artery disease that has led to heart attacks.
* Weakening of the heart muscle by heart valve disease that involves large amounts of blood leakage.
* Heart muscle stiffness caused by a blocked heart valve.
* Uncontrolled high blood pressure, also called hypertension.
* High levels of the thyroid hormone.
* Excessive use of amphetamines ("speed").
Symptoms of Congestive Heart Disease
Either side of the heart muscle may weaken and cause congestive heart disease. The symptoms of congestive heart disease depend on the side of the heart that is affected. They can include these:
* asthma that can be attributed to the heart
* blood pooling in the body's overall circulation
* blood pooling in the liver's circulation
* enlargement of the heart
* shortness of breath
* skin color that appears bluish or dusky
* swelling of the body, especially the extremities
Congestive Heart Disease Risk Factors
As is true with most heart disease, family history is a major risk factor for congestive heart disease. Genetics cannot easily be altered. Age is a second risk factor that cannot be changed. Congestive heart disease is particularly prevalent among older people.
Aside from those two, however, risk factors can and should be addressed. Here are 7 risk factors for congestive heart disease that you may want to discuss with your health care provider.
1. High blood pressure: This is the highest risk factor for congestive heart disease! Men with uncontrolled high blood pressure are twice as likely as those with normal blood pressure to suffer congestive heart disease. If a woman has uncontrolled high blood pressure, she is three times as likely as women with normal blood pressure to develop congestive heart disease.
2. Heart Attacks: This is the second highest risk factor for congestive heart disease. Those who have had heart attacks that resulted in damage to the heart muscle, and scarring of the muscle tissue, have increased risks of experiencing congestive heart disease.
3. High Cholesterol: Showing high levels of cholesterol, particularly when levels of HDL are low, is listed as another risk factor for congestive heart disease.
4. Diabetes: Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are risk factors for developing congestive heart disease.
5. Obesity: Men and women who are overweight unnecessarily increase their risks of experiencing congestive heart disease. The heart must work harder when the body is not at a healthy weight, and can begin to lose its ability to deliver blood efficiently.
6. Prolonged Physical Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle, with little exercise, puts people at risk for congestive heart disease, especially as they increase in age. The heart needs cardiovascular exercise to remain strong and able to function well.
7. Smoking: Smoking increases the heart's workload. It also affects the lungs. This is a risk for congestive heart disease that anyone can eliminate.
CAUTION: Please see your doctor if you have reason to think you may have one or more of the risk factors or symptoms of congestive heart disease. The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only.