Health A-Z

Congestive Heart Failure

Clinical Definition

Congestive heart failure refers to a decrease in the heart’s ability to pump blood, which in turn is associated with congestion and edema in the tissues, potentially including the lungs. Heart failure may be associated with symptoms such as shortness of breath, edema, vein distension in the neck’s (jugular) veins or an enlarged and tender liver.

In Our Own Words

Congestive heart failure refers to the declining ability of the heart to pump blood as well as it should. When thinking of the heart as a pump, failure of the pump by definition means fluid has backed up. Depending on the part of the heart that is failing, different kinds of this congestion can occur. The pumping ability may decline due to damage to the heart muscle from a prior heart attack, or it may be caused by a number of other conditions, including viruses, heart defects, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease or high blood pressure (hypertension).

Different types of heart failure affect the heart differently. In some people experiencing heart failure, the heart’s left ventricle does not contract enough, so the body gets less oxygen-rich blood. This is termed systolic heart failure. Failure of the left ventricle can lead to failure of the right ventricle and congestion. In diastolic heart failure, the heart contracts normally, but its ventricles (or chambers) do not relax enough, so less blood gets into the heart. With medication and other measures, those with heart failure can often keep engaging in everyday activities.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Swollen ankles
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Heart Palpitations
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