Predominant congestive heart failure symptoms include shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, water retention and bloating, and an irregular heartbeat. While some patients may experience severe symptoms, others experience only mild discomfort; and doctors will have to perform several tests to determine the extent of cardiovascular damage. Some individuals may suffer for years with unexplained weakness, coughing, and swelling at the feet, ankles and abdomen, unaware that their heart is in jeopardy of failing. Individuals who are overweight or aging may assume that shortness of breath and overall fatigue are part and parcel of being obese or adding a few more years; but prolonged cardiac distress, if left untreated, can lead to heart attacks or death.
The heart is a powerful muscle which pumps blood through the lungs via the pulmonary artery, where it is enriched with oxygen and carried to the other parts of the body’s tissues, brain, and vital organs via smaller arteries and veins. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). When the heart becomes weakened, it ceases to function optimally and fails to carry a sufficient amount of blood and oxygen throughout the lungs and kidneys. Congestive heart failure symptoms, such as fluid buildup in the chest cavity, causes congestion and difficulty breathing upon exertion or at rest, especially in a fully reclined position. As the lungs begin to literally drown in excess fluid, individuals will develop a persistent cough in an effort to open airways and clear the lungs.
Congestive heart failure symptoms also include swelling, or edema, of the lower limbs, especially around the ankles, and abdomen. Fluid and water builds up in swollen tissues and the kidneys are forced to work harder to expel excess fluid. Frequent urination, especially at night, is an indication that the body has taken on excess fluid and water. CHF patients also may experience abdominal bloating, nausea or a loss of appetite. Congested lungs, overworked kidneys, and the urge to urinate disrupt sleep patterns and causes individuals to become irritable and restless during waking hours.
Individuals may also experience congestive heart failure symptoms, such as an irregular heartbeat or fluttering in the middle of the chest. The heart is a powerful organ, but congestion and weakness can force it to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. The harder the organ works, the more rapid the heartbeat, causing undue distress and possible failure. Palpitations and irregular beats, dizziness upon standing, extreme fatigue upon exertion, and a feeling of suffocating are other symptoms of cardiac distress. Individuals may notice that everyday activities, such as climbing a flight of stairs or walking the dog, become increasingly more tiring and difficult. As discomfort increases, individuals may become increasingly sedentary, limiting activity until there is very little mobility.
Individuals who suffer congestive heart failure symptoms should be examined by a cardiologist. Doctors will want to first assess the patient’s medical history and determine whether symptoms are indicative of weakened valves, clogged arteries, or fluid build-up. A heart catheterization can detect blockages, which can contribute to congestive heart failure. Blood tests will reveal whether kidneys are working properly and high or low levels of bad cholesterol. A chest x-ray will give cardiologists a clear picture of the organ and whether it is enlarged or surrounded by excess fluid flowing to the lungs. Damage to valves, ventricles, the aorta, and pulmonary arteries will also show up on x-rays. Cardiologists usually order an electrocardiogram, or EKG, to measure electrical impulses generated by the heart’s activity; along with a stress test to determine the level of exertion individuals can reach before tiring easily or causing the organ to pump harder. During a stress test, patients are carefully monitored and instructed to walk on a treadmill until the organ begins to experience stress and slight discomfort. Listening to the patient breathe will also determine whether the heartbeat is irregular or whether sounds emitted follow an abnormal pattern indicating congestion.
Patients who are diagnosed with congestive heart failure symptoms may be hospitalized immediately to rid the lungs and kidneys of excess fluid. Diuretics, or water pills, are effective in producing sufficient urine to eliminate fluid build-up. While hospitalized, patients may be monitored and placed on a restrictive salt-free diet with a limited intake of water and other beverages. A prescribed diet may include bland unsweetened tea, light toast, gelatine, and unseasoned baked chicken. The hospital’s goal will be to restrict foods which cause water retention and weight gain. Individuals will have to learn how to eat to live, eliminating salt, sodium nitrate or processed meats, high-calorie, highly seasoned meats, and fried foods, which are usually laden with artery-clogging fats and salt. Gradually, individuals will lose excess fluid and pounds on a restricted diet.
Congestive heart failure symptoms may be alleviated by taking blood thinners, such as coumadin; or other medications to reduce cardiac stress and improve the organ’s ability to pump blood and oxygen through the body. To relieve nighttime discomfort, doctors may suggest elevating the head with a couple of pillows to keep excess fluid from pooling around the lungs. Moderate exercise, such as walking, cycling, or water aerobics will help restore mobility and gradually increase the heart’s ability to handle added stress. Cardiovascular exercises include activities which cause the heart to work a little harder each day to avoid the “attacks” which occur when extreme stress is placed on the organ all at once. Individuals who suffer from congestive heart failure symptoms should check with the doctor before beginning any exercise or diet program.