Congestive Heart Failure: Watch for the Warning Signs

You struggle to catch your breath and your legs are swelling. You just feel so tired and weak. Is something serious going on with your health? Here’s what you should know.

About 6.2 million Americans in Nebraska, Iowa and across the country have congestive heart failure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports this sobering statistic and notes that in 2018, almost 380,000 death certificates nationwide mentioned congestive heart failure. It’s estimated that by 2030, congestive heart failure costs in the United States will reach at least $70 billion a year in medical expenses, care services and missed days of work. 

What is congestive heart failure?

Despite its name, congestive heart failure does not mean a person’s heart has actually failed or is about to stop working. However, the pumping action of the heart is too weak to effectively move blood out of the heart to the rest of the body. Also referred to as CHF or simply heart failure, this muscle weakness of the heart leads to downstream symptoms throughout the body. 

In some cases, a structural problem such as a narrowing of a valve can limit the heart’s ability to pump properly. When the body’s blood returns to the heart faster than it can be pumped out, the heart becomes congested or backs up with fluid. With appropriate medical treatments, heart failure can be stabilized for many years but will worsen without ongoing management. 

What are common warning signs and symptoms of heart failure?

When the heart is unable to pump out blood well enough, the muscular wall of the heart increases in size. This makes the heart less able to relax, allowing for blood to fill its chambers with each beat. In time, less blood circulates. When blood cannot move through this pump, the blood flow congests. The veins that return the blood to the heart get backed up causing the characteristic symptoms of congestive heart failure. The legs will swell. Shortness of breath will arise from fluid accumulating in the lungs. The kidneys may not function at full capacity due to this poor blood supply. 

Common heart failure symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath during activities or when lying down
  • Rapid weight gain because of fluid buildup
  • Swelling on both sides of legs, feet, ankles or the stomach
  • Fatigue and feeling weak
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Persistent cough or wheezing known as cardiac asthma

What are causes or risk factors for heart failure?

Other health conditions that directly affect the cardiovascular system may cause congestive heart failure. Medical issues that can lead to a higher risk for heart failure include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease (i.e., hyperthyroidism, thyroid storm)
  • Obesity
  • Certain chemotherapy drugs

Some health factors you can control and others you cannot. That is why it is important to get at least an annual checkup to look for heart health problems and learn what lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease.

How can heart failure be prevented?

Genetics play a role in heart health, but lifestyle behaviors do as well. You can take can several steps to reduce your likelihood of congestive heart failure including:

  • Avoid or quit smoking. Also steer clear of second-hand smoke.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains.
  • Reduce your sodium intake.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Follow your doctor’s direction on taking medications, particularly for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. 

If you are at higher risk for heart failure or already have some heart damage, be sure to consult with your think physician about how much physical activity is right for you and discuss any other health restrictions for your body.

What are treatment options for heart failure?

Congestive heart failure is not reversible, but it is manageable with medications and following the preventive lifestyle changes noted above. Medicines called ACE inhibitors and ARBs improve heart function and can improve life expectancy. Diuretics are the primary treatment to help reduce fluid retention. Certain beta-blockers are effective at off- loading the pressure on the heart. 

The longer the condition progresses, there is a tipping point when it is harder to manage medically. The key is to off-load the fluid and pressure from the heart. Even elevating your feet and helping overall circulation can reduce the extra strain on your heart’s ability to pump more efficiently. 

In more severe cases of heart failure, surgical procedures can open blocked arteries or replace heart valves. Some patients are candidates for a type of pacemaker, biventricular pacing therapy, that helps both sides of the heart to work in tandem. A heart transplant is the final option — and often has a nearly 80 percent success rate after five years. 

Why is think an excellent choice to manage heart failure?

Here at think, we work as a comprehensive team with our patients. If you are diagnosed with congestive heart failure, you may be eligible for our Chronic Care Management (CCM) or our Care Coordination services. If you qualify and are approved for our CCM services, a think care management team comprised of your physician, pharmacist and other onsite specialists will together oversee your multiple health conditions.

We can also watch over your heart health via our Remote Patient Management (RPM), a think service that uses digital technology to keep updated on your daily weight, blood pressure and more vital signs outside our offices. Close and careful coordination and supervision of your heart failure and other chronic conditions is important for the best outcomes for your health moving forward. 

The prognosis and life expectancy for heart failure varies depending on such factors as age of onset, other health conditions and adherence to treatment. Generally, an early diagnosis and following a tailored treatment plan can result in better care and a longer life. 


Think Whole Person Healthcare makes it easy to receive both preventative care and treatment for a wide range of health conditions. From the fluctuating blood sugar levels to the persistent joint pain, our physicians, advanced practice providers and specialists are committed to you and your family’s lifelong health and well-being.Our walk-in clinic treats anyone, even those who are not a think patient or do not have a primary care provider currently. To learn more about our comprehensive healthcare services, visit our Services page online and choose your own think medical professionals by visiting our Meet Your Doctor page. 

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