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The heart condition that takes your breath away
What are the causes?
How is CHF treated?

Making life easier
Making life easier

Although congestive heart failure won’t go away, you can take some steps to control it.

  1. Pay careful attention to how you feel—and tell your doctor about it.
  2. Eat a low-sodium diet.
  3. Ask your doctor about safe activities you can do, like taking a short walk or visiting a friend.
  4. Plan resting or nap times. Relax, read, put your feet up and give your heart a break.
  5. Stop smoking.
  6. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  7. Follow your doctor’s orders about taking care of congestive heart failure and related conditions like high blood pressure, kidney problems or diabetes.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) starts out so slowly you might overlook the first few warning signs, like feeling a little out of breath after doing heavy housework. In time, however, routine chores will leave you gasping for air. You may even have trouble breathing whenever you lie down, making it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Swollen ankles and feet are other telltale signs of congestive heart failure—the inability of your heart to supply enough blood to all the tissues of your body.

What are the causes?

Any condition that prevents the heart from pumping effectively—such as congenital heart disease, valve disease, coronary artery disease and previous heart attacks—can lead to congestive heart failure, which affects more than 5 million Americans. But the most common cause is prolonged high blood pressure, which forces the heart to pump harder than it should. Like any other muscle, the heart enlarges from overuse until eventually it can’t keep up. When that happens, blood backs up into the veins instead of circulating properly, resulting in CHF.

How is CHF treated?

Left untreated, congestive heart failure can be deadly. But people with CHF can lead near-normal lives by making a few lifestyle changes (see “Making life easier”) and taking their medication regularly. Often prescribed to treat congestive heart failure are blood pressure drugs known as ACE inhibitors; diuretics (water pills), which help the body get rid of excess fluids; digitalis, a drug that strengthens the heart’s pumping action; and vasodilators, which widen the arteries to enhance blood flow.