Living with Congestive Heart Failure
By: Dr. Vasundhara Muthu
Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the requirements of the body's other organs. However most people with congestive heart failure can be treated and in some cases can even be cured. Congestive heart failure can be caused by a multitude of causes such as high blood pressure, heart valve disease, heart defects from birth, coronary artery disease and heart attacks, diseases of the heart muscle due to deposition of extra iron or other metabolites, toxins such as alcohol and certain drugs used to treat cancer or diseases that increase the body's demand for oxygen-rich blood, including severe anemia and hyperthyroidism.
The central theme of heart failure is usually excessive accumulation of fluid in the body which often backs up into the lungs causing shortness of breath. The initial treatment employs medications called diuretics which help get rid of the extra salt and water. Restricting salt in the diet is a cornerstone in the treatment of heart failure, some patients especially those with kidney problems may also require restrictions of fluid intake. There are also medications available that can help the heart muscle to heal over time and make it able to pump blood more effectively and therefore increase long-term survival. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), spironolactone and beta blockers are commonly used medications. There are also several newer medications available now which have led to further improvements in decreasing hospital admissions and increasing survival and length of life in patients with heart failure.
There are many lifestyle changes that a person with congestive heart failure can make that have been shown to help slow the progression of the condition and to help keep patients out of the hospital. These include:
- Diet, especially sodium restriction
- Fluid restriction
- Weight monitoring
It is very important for people with congestive heart failure to monitor their weight on a daily basis. If you have a weight gain of two to three pounds in 1-2 days, or 5 pounds in a week you should contact your physician. They may want to increase your dose of diuretics in order to control the fluid accumulation before it becomes more severe.
The outlook for someone with congestive heart failure depends on how they take care of themselves. It also depends on what stage of the condition you’re in as well as whether you have any other health conditions. Patients who are compliant with medications, lifestyle modification and physician follow up, can and do live fairly normal lifestyles. Consult with your physician to determine what the best treatment plan is for you.
Dr. Vasundhara Muthu is a cardiologist with the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center. She can be reached at 410-768-0919.