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Congestive Heart Failure

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Also known as: Heart Failure; CHF

What is congestive heart failure?

Congestive heart failure (CHF), also called heart failure, is a condition in which the heart can no longer pump blood as efficiently as it used to. This causes blood and other fluids to back up in the body – particularly in the liver, lungs, hands, and feet.

The heart has two sides and four chambers. The right side of the heart receives oxygen-depleted blood from the body and sends it to the lungs. The left side of the heart receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it out to the body.Thumbnail diagram of heart

CHF is a serious, progressive condition that is usually chronic and can be life-threatening. It may affect the right side, left side, or both sides of the heart. In people with CHF, reduced amounts of oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the body's organs, which can cause damage and loss of function.

There are a number of different causes for CHF. Most often, the heart has been damaged, either by high blood pressure (hypertension), previous heart attacks, or direct damage to the heart muscle (termed cardiomyopathy). CHF can also occur when there is damage to the valves within the heart or with scarring in the pericardium, the membrane surrounding the heart. Rarely, CHF occurs when the heart is forced to beat more forcefully than normal, as in severe hyperthyroidism, and cannot keep up with the demand. The risk of CHF is increased in those who are overweight, have diabetes, smoke, or who abuse alcohol or cocaine.

CHF is common in the elderly as the heart becomes less efficient with age. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute estimates that about 5.7 million people in the United States have heart failure. For people over the age of 65, it is one of the most common causes of hospitalization.

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