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Heart failure is a misleading term. It refers to a serious condition in which the heart becomes an ineffective pump. When this occurs, the quantity of blood pumped by the heart is insufficient to meet the body’s requirements for oxygen and other nutrients.

When the heart has to overwork for long periods of time it enlarges. The pumping chambers of the heart fail. When this happens, blood stays in the lungs or tissues of the body. These areas are congested with blood and fluid, thus, the term congestive heart failure.

There are disease processes that can be an underlying factor in the development of congestive heart failure. The most common is coronary heart disease. Other diseases that may promote congestive heart failure are myocarditis, diabetes, an overactive thyroid, extreme obesity and heart valve disease. Ailments that affect the electrical system of the heart, or an irregular, erratic rate, can also contribute.

As the failure progresses the body retains more water. This results in swelling of the feet and ankles, sometimes the abdomen and thighs as well. Other symptoms include fatigue and weakness during daily activities. This is caused by a lack of oxygen to the muscles.

Often restlessness and failure to sleep well are noted. Many people sleep in an upright position because of pulmonary edema. Another symptom associated with this disease is a persistent productive cough, often the sputum is frothy or blood tinged.

Treatment of CHF (congestive heart failure) is approached in three ways: treat the underlying cause, remove the contributing factors that worsen heart failure and last to treat the failure itself.

Acute stages of heart failure can be treated with rest, proper diet and moderating daily activities. Digoxin is used to increase the power of each heart beat and slows a too fast rate. Irregular heart rates are controlled with medication or pacemakers. Vasodilators and ACE inhibitors are used to dilate and relax the blood vessels. Diuretics are used to increase the kidneys output of fluid.

The risk of congestive heart failure increases with age. About 40,000 new cases are diagnosed yearly. There is no cure for heart failure, 70 percent of these cases die within ten years. The goal of treatment concentrates on improving an individual's quality of life. This is achieved by using preventative measures that eliminate the contributing factors; smoking, obesity, salt intake, extremes in room temperature and excessive alcohol intake.