Congestive heart failure (CHF) occurs when the heart isn't able to pump blood normally. As a result, there is not enough blood flow to provide the body's organs with oxygen and nutrients. The term "heart failure" does not mean that the heart stops beating completely, but that the heart is not working as efficiently.
CHF affects over 6 million people in North America and is the most common cause of hospitalization for people over 65 years of age. Each year CHF is implicated in over 300,000 deaths.
Men are slightly more at risk than women. People of African descent are considerably more at risk than those of European descent and also have a higher risk of death.
There are two basic problems in congestive heart failure:
- Systolic dysfunction occurs when the heart can't pump enough blood to supply all the body's needs.
- Diastolic dysfunction occurs when the heart cannot accept all the blood being sent to it.
Many people have both systolic and diastolic heart failure.
CHF is usually the result of other health problems:
- Coronary artery disease, a condition that causes narrowing of the arteries that supply the heart with blood, can damage and weaken areas of the heart.
- Heart valve disease may have been caused by abnormalities that have been present since birth or have developed over time.
- Persistent high blood pressure forces the heart to pump against higher pressure, which causes it to weaken over time.
- Heart attack damages the heart muscle. People who have had heart attacks are at five times the average risk of developing CHF.
- Diabetes also increases CHF risk.
- Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) can cause the heart to pump inefficiently and to weaken over time, especially if too fast.
- Heart valve disease may be present since birth or develop over time and can weaken the heart.
- Heart valve damage may have been caused by rheumatic disease or infection.
- Infection of the heart can seriously weaken the heart. For example, a virus can affect the heart muscle or rheumatic disease can damage the valves.
- An enlarged wall between the heart chambers (a genetic condition) may prevent normal heart function.
- Certain kidney conditions that increase blood pressure and fluid buildup can increase the risk of CHF by placing more stress on the heart.
- Use of illicit drugs such as cocaine can significantly weaken the heart.
- Excessive alcohol consumption over the long term can weaken the heart.
In addition, all the risk factors that normally increase the chances of heart disease, such as smoking, diabetes, and obesity, increase your risk of congestive heart failure.