Congestive Heart Disease

Marked by fatigue and breathlessness, congestive heart disease is a potentially life-threatening condition which occurs when the heart loses its ability to pump blood effectively. Individuals who suffer from chronic fatigue or shortness of breath upon exertion should be examined for cardiac problems. Cardiologists can listen to the organ with a stethoscope for certain tell tale signs that the patient is on the verge of cardiac stress, arrest, or failure. The heart is the most important organ in the human body. It is a powerful muscle which pumps blood away to the lungs and out to brain and the extremities, then receives blood back from the body again. Cardiac disease may be caused by a disruption of a regulated flow of blood. An overflow can result in too much blood entering the lungs, causing pulmonary edema; while too little blood can rob organs of vital nutrients and oxygen necessary to prolong and sustain life. “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
Some conditions, such as congestive heart disease, develop as a result of attacks or stress on cardiac muscles, vessels or ventricles. If the left side of the organ is under stress, blood may back up into the lungs, effectively drowning them in fluid. Distress to the lungs causes feelings of breathlessness and wheezing. Failure or malformation of the right ventricle will cause blood to pool in the legs and liver, causing edema, or swelling. Congestive heart disease can also obstruct blood flow to the kidneys and cause water and salt retention. Patients who suffer from cardiac disease will experience trouble breathing upon exertion, such as climbing stairs or walking even short distances, as the organ struggles to function. For these individuals, even getting out of bed can be a chore, as the disease limits their ability to enjoy a full life. Many become reclusive, preferring rather to stay close to home than suffer the shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, and swelling legs associated with cardiac disease.

Individuals who suffer cardiovascular distress should contact a doctor immediately, as persistent distress can ultimately lead to organ failure and death. Upon examination, an electrocardiogram, or ECG, will test heart rhythms, and chest x-rays can reveal whether the organ is enlarged or lungs have become congested. Lungs that are filled with blood or fluid will cause patients to wheeze or cough deeply. Cardiologists may order an echocardiogram to determine weaknesses in the heart’s muscles or valves. Individuals who suffer from congestive heart disease may have episodes which require hospitalization and observation. Congestion may produce feelings of suffocation and breathlessness may increase when patients lie down or at bedtime. Elevating the head above the legs may help alleviate discomfort and cause fluids not to pool around the chest and lungs.

If left untreated, congestive heart disease can cause not only cause cardiac arrest, as blood flow is restricted; but also a weakened muscle will cease to pump sufficient amounts of blood at sufficient pressure to reach the brain, lungs and extremities. Doctors recommend emergency medical treatment for individuals who experience shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, increased pressure in the chest wall, wheezing, coughing or other discomfort. Emergency medical treatment will include draining the lungs of excess fluid and administering angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE), hydralazines, or nitrates. Nitroglycerine tablets taken under the tongue are usually prescribed to provide prompt relief for cardiac attacks or distress; and CHF patients may be required to carry a small bottle for emergency use.

After undergoing treatment and following a prescribed medication plan, individuals who suffer from congestive heart disease should follow a diet and exercise program to help alleviate stress on the muscle and rebuild tissue. The body is a resilient organ able to sustain acute health conditions and recover as patients faithfully observe lifestyle changes. Congestive heart disease can be contained by avoiding high-fat, high-salt, and high-cholesterol foods. Patients should refrain from artery-clogging proteins, such as red meat, fried foods, refined flour and sugar, starches, and processed foods. Alcoholic and high-calorie beverages should also be avoided. Green and herbal teas may also help thin the blood and de-stress individuals who are at risk of heart failure. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably raw, will enable cells to be rebuilt and individuals to lose excess weight. Foods high in fiber pass more quickly through the digestive system and aid in delivering vitamins to vital organs, rather than turning into fat. Physicians and nutritionists can tailor a diet plan for patients that will help them lose weight and regain physical fitness.

Moderate walking or chair exercise increase circulation and cause heart muscle to gain strength. Cardiovascular exercises not only include moderate walking, at least fifteen minutes a day; but also climbing stairs and water aerobics. Congestive heart disease patients won’t be expected to run a marathon, but with gradual lifestyle changes from sedentary to active, improvement is possible. Cycling on a stationery bicycle also improves circulation, while restoring the organ’s ability to pump blood more effectively. The result is that fluid cannot easily build up in the lungs, because of greater cardiovascular function. Moderate exercise should be supervised by a trained therapist to avoid over-exertion; and individuals are encouraged to slow their pace if the heart should race or beat abnormally, signs of stress. Cardiologists also recommend mind/body therapies such as gentle stretching, journaling, prayer, painting, sewing, or other hobbies which reduce stress and enable individuals to focus on reconstructing a life built on hope for a healthier future.