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Heart & Vascular

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Heart Failure

What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure (CHF), or heart failure, is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to the body's other organs. This can result from:

  • Narrowed arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle (coronary artery disease)
  • Past heart attack, or myocardial infarction, with scar tissue that interferes with the heart muscle's normal work
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart valve disease due to past rheumatic fever or other causes
  • Primary disease of the heart muscle itself, called cardiomyopathy
  • Heart defects present at birth (congenital heart defects)
  • Infection of the heart valves and/or heart muscle itself (endocarditis and/or myocarditis)

WakeMed Congestive
Heart Failure Program

WakeMed's Congestive Heart Failure Program helps patients learn about and manage this chronic disease.

Symptoms of Heart Failure

  • Dry Hacking Cough
  • Fatigue, Loss of Energy
  • Sudden Weight Gain
  • Shortness of Breath, Especially with Activity
  • Awakening Short of Breath at Night
  • Unable to Sleep Lying Flat; Need an Extra Pillow or Need to Sit Up to Sleep
  • Swelling of Ankles, Legs and/or Stomach
  • Lack of Appetite or "Bloated" Feeling
  • Less Urination During the Day; Increased Urination at Night

How is My Heart Affected?

The "failing" heart keeps working, but not as efficiently as it should. People with heart failure cannot over-exert themselves because they become short of breath and tired.

As bloodflow out of the heart slows, blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing congestion in the tissues. Swelling (edema) often results. Most often there's swelling in the legs and ankles, but it can happen in other parts of the body, too. Sometimes fluid collects in the lungs and interferes with breathing, causing shortness of breath, especially when a person is lying down.

Heart Failure usually develops slowly following injury to the heart. Damage to the heart muscle may be caused by coronary artery disease, heart attack, long-term high blood pressure, diabetes, heart valve disease, infection of the heart muscle, viruses or lung problems.

The heart muscle becomes weakened and must work harder to keep blood flowing through the body. The name of this condition does not mean that your heart has suddenly stopped working.

Treating Heart Failure

Download a Print Version of Living With Heart Failure