Congestive heart failure

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Updated: 4/11/2007 2:47 pm
When the heart cannot supply the body's other organs with a sufficient blood supply, a condition called congestive (kon-JESS-tiv) heart failure results. In this state, the heart pumps blood out more slowly, often causing returning blood to become congested in the heart's surrounding tissues. This can lead to swelling or edema (eh-DEEM-ah) in the legs, ankles, or other body parts. The lungs may also collect extra fluid and perform breathing inefficiently, indicated by shortness of breath. Also, a failing heart may cause the kidneys to have difficulty in eliminating sodium and water, which further increases body swelling. In fact, shortness of breath and fluid-related weight gain are significant symptoms a physician may use to diagnose congestive heart failure. If such symptoms are observed, and if the condition can then be linked to a specific cause, it may be treated accordingly and perhaps corrected. There are several common underlying conditions that may lead to congestive heart failure. Some uncorrected inherited childhood heart defects can bring about this condition in adults, or it may be caused by infection or disease in the heart's muscle, main blood vessels, or valves. Sometimes scar tissue from a prior heart attack prevents normal function of the heart muscle, or high blood pressure may put enough pressure on the heart to lead to muscle failure. Very rarely, the heart muscle has sustained significant damage requiring a heart transplant. In many cases, rest, a healthy diet, minimized daily activities, and prescription medications can alleviate the symptoms and allow a person to live comfortably. If you're concerned about your heart, or have questions about congestive heart disease, contact a health-care provider.

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