Congestive heart failure is a serious condition that develops gradually over time. Congestive heart failure is when the heart doesn’t pump efficiently, causing fluid to build up in your lungs, ankles, feet, arms, and/or around other organs.

Congestive heart failure is a type of heart failure that requires timely medical assistance to ensure positive patient outcome. During congestive heart failure, the heart slows the flow of blood, causing it to back up in the veins and create congestion in the tissue. This congestion leads to swelling around the arms, legs, and organs.

Heart Failure vs Congestive Heart Failure

Though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are different variations of heart failure. Congestive heart failure doesn’t necessarily mean your heart is failing, but early detection and recognizing risk factors can determine your prognosis and life expectancy. Nearly 6 million Americans have heart failure. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people 65 and older.

There is no cure for heart failure, and treatment depends on the stage of heart failure you are in. The New York Heart Association Classification groups heart failure stages into four categories:

  • Class I – No symptoms and no limitation in ordinary physical activity, e.g. shortness of breath when walking, climbing stairs, etc.
  • Class II – Mild symptoms (mild shortness of breath and/or angina) and slight limitation during ordinary activity.
  • Class III – Marked limitation in activity due to symptoms, even during less-than-ordinary activity, e.g. walking short distances. Comfortable only at rest.
  • Class IV – Severe limitations. Experiences symptoms even while at rest. Mostly bedbound patients.

Patients in Class I may only need medications and cardiac rehabilitation, whereas Class IV treatment may involve heart transplant surgery, palliative or hospice care when all other treatments fail. Early diagnosis is critical to preventing heart failure from progressing, and improving your quality of life.

What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?

There are many conditions and risk factors that can damage the heart and cause heart failure. The most common include:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Obesity/being overweight
  • Certain chemotherapy medications
  • Heart defects or issues present at birth

“Patient education is absolutely critical in the proper management of heart failure. Heart failure is a condition where the squeezing or relaxing function of the heart becomes compromised. Patients with heart failure may experience shortness of breath with exertion, shortness of breath when laying down, feeling full after eating very little or decreased appetite, and a general lack of energy.  They may have increased fluid retention in their body, particularly their abdomen and legs, which may turn puffy or swollen. It is important that patients experiencing these symptoms seek medical attention immediately. 

Your cardiologist will typically start with an ultrasound of the heart (also called an echocardiogram) to assess your heart function. There are several medications that can help with symptom management and potentially increase heart strength to reverse heart failure. Heart failure patients must also make certain lifestyle changes, such as limiting their intake of fluid and salt, as well as keeping a close eye on their weight and blood pressure.”

Divya Gumber, MD

Cardiologist, Catholic Health

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Your physician will perform a physical examination to look for signs of congestive heart failure. They may also order the following tests and procedures to diagnose congestive heart failure:

  • Bloodwork
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • X-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • MRI
  • EKG
  • Stress test

Living with Heart Failure

A heart failure diagnosis can be emotional and cause feelings of depression and stress. It’s important to remember that with the right care and treatment, people are still able to live with the condition and do the things they enjoy. Monitoring your symptoms, checking in regularly with your physician, following the recommended treatment plan and staying positive can help.

Our award winning cardiac care team offers the latest advancements in treatment and therapies. We are proud to be a regional leader in cardiac care, and nationally recognized for cardiac surgery. We are the first center in WNY to perform cardiac contractility modulation (CCM) implant surgery, a device-based therapy for patients with heart failure.

To schedule an appointment with one of our experienced cardiac physicians or surgeons, call 716-706-2113.