Congestive Heart Failure Fact and Fiction: June 22, 2012

The diagnosis is frightening.  When you hear the words ‘congestive heart failure,’ you’re likely to fear the worst.

Congestive heart failure: a common heart condition, it’s become a major player in health care intervention.  In this country, it’s the leading cause of hospitalization for people over 65.

“As the death rate from heart attack has actually been dropping over the last ten years or so, the death rate for congestive heart failure’s still staying up. So from a medical standpoint this is one of the principal health issues that faces our nation,” says Richard Chazal, a cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

When you hear the work ‘failure,’ it’s not surprising people have misconceptions.  Myth number one: congestive heart failure means the heart has stopped working.

“The term failure in this case means the failure of the heart to accommodate the normal blood volume, and thus fluid volume in the body,” says Dr. Chazal.

Several things can weaken the heart, including coronary artery disease or a heart attack. It becomes congestive when the damaged heart muscle’s pumping power can’t keep up.

Eventually fluid builds up in the lungs, abdomen and legs.  Which leads to myth two: people with congestive heart failure shouldn’t exercise.  In fact, it can be helpful in mild cases. 

“Congestive heart failure first of all should be treated with prevention whenever possible. And that means regular exercise, avoidance of smoking, trying to keep the diet under good control. Anyone though who has had congestive heart failure does need to be observed and followed with careful attention,” says Dr. Chazal.

Myth number three is that congestive heart failure is a consequence of old age. 

“There are a variety of causes for congestive heart failure the most common of which is the end result of long standing high blood pressure,” says Dr. Chazal.

In fact, while most common in the elderly, congestive heart failure is seen across all ages.

One final fact: if you suspect any health issue, you need to seek a medical evaluation.