What is congestive heart failure?

Heart Failure & LifeStyle Changes

If you have CHF, changes in lifestyle are important. Quit smoking, limit alcoholic beverage consumption (men should drink no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day, women no more than 1), and aim for a BMI (body mass index) of less than 30. Increasing your activity level is key, too. The American Heart Association recommends every adult exercise for at 30 minutes every day.

Diagnosing heart failure in patients requires a thorough evaluation including:

  • The patient's medical and family history
  • A physical examination
  • Assessment of the patient's cardiac structure and function
  • Evaluation of any arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), coronary disease and myocardial ischemia (a condition that happens when the blood flow to the heart muscle is partially or completely blocked)

A visit to the physician will also help identify any physical conditions or genetic factors that may increase a patient's risk, such as a prior heart attack or stroke, uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes, congenital defects, valvular heart disease from rheumatic fever, heart valve diseases (such as an infection or calcium buildup in the lining of the heart valves) or cardiomyopathy (a deterioration of the heart muscle).

Some patients, however, are asymptomatic.

There is no cure for CHF. The goal of treatment is to minimize symptoms and slow the disease's progression. Doctors often prescribe lifestyle changes along with medications (diuretics and vasodilator therapies) to prevent cardiac failure as long as possible. As CHF also impairs kidney function, causing the body to retain sodium and water, dietary sodium restrictions are important. An analysis published in the January 21, 2010, New England Journal of Medicine suggests that if we all reduce our daily salt intake by 3-grams (a half a teaspoon) we would reduce annual diagnoses of heart disease and stroke by roughly one-third. Vasodilator medications such as ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors and beta blockers are most often used in patients who are at high risk.

What puts you at high risk? Coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, stroke or diabetes.

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