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The Failing Heart: Breaking Down Congestive Heart Failure: October 16, 2012

Every day, the average heart moves over 6-thousand quarts of blood through the body. And like all pumps, it can eventually wear out and fail. When that happens, it’s called congestive heart failure.

“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. And there are acute situations where someone suddenly becomes short of breath or has excess fluid sometimes requiring hospitalization,” says Dr. Richard Chazal, cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

It’s estimated 5-million Americans are living with this condition. It typically develops slowly over time.

“The onset of congestive heart failure can sneak up on one. Often unexplained weight gain accompanied by shortness of breath is the thing that tips you off that it’s early congestive heart failure. Other times people will suddenly notice that their energy level is down, that they have more swelling or they’re more short of breath,” says Dr. Chazal.

At the same time deaths from heart attack are going down, the number of people with congestive heart failure is on the rise. Common causes are clogged arteries and high blood pressure.

The overburdened heart muscle is unable to keep up with demand. The result is a back up of fluid. Signs a patient is in the ‘trouble zone’ are swelling and rapid weight-gain due to excess fluid.

“And eventually this can result in so much strain on the heart that the heart goes into dangerous or sometimes fatal irregular heart rhythms,” says Dr. Chazal.

The best way to prevent heart failure is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Losing weight, limiting salt intake and cutting out tobacco go a long way in keeping your heart strong.