What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Updated at: Jan 27, 2018
What is Congestive Heart Failure?

WThe heart is the sole organ that takes charge of pumping the blood throughout the body. It is when the heart fails to pump the much-needed blood to the rest of the body that one has congestive heart failure.

Bhadra Kamalasanan
Heart HealthWritten by: Bhadra KamalasananPublished at: May 06, 2013

Congestive heart failure refers to a condition in which the heart fails to pump enough blood to satiate the needs of the body. The weakened chambers let the blood pool inside the heart and the nearby veins, triggering fluid retention, especially in the legs, lungs and abdomen. A major cause of heart failure includes hypertension, cardiomyopathy, coronary heart disease and other heart diseases.

Heart failure appears to indicate that the heart just stops working, but this is not so. Heart failure only implies that the tissues of the body are temporarily no receiving as much blood and oxygen as is needed. Since there have been advancements in the field of diagnosis and therapy for heart failure, a lot of patients have been living longer.


Congestive heart failure is a syndrome that can be caused by several factors. Some of the common causes of congestive heart failure include:

  • Damaged heart valves
  • Weakened heart muscle
  • Blocked blood vessels supplying the heart muscle that may further lead to heart attack
  • Exposure to toxic substances like cocaine or alcohol
  • Infections that for reasons unknown affect the heart
  • High blood pressure that leads to the thickening of the heart muscle
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Serious and prolonged arrhythmias
  • Less common disorders in which the heart muscle gets infiltrated by the process of the disease

You may be more likely to have congestive heart failure if you follow the following lifestyle habits:

  • Unhealthy habits like drinking alcohol and smoking
  • Being overweight and avoiding exercise
  • Not complying with the prescribed dosage of medications or therapies can lead to problems
  • Consuming a diet high in salt

Risk Factors

It has been found in several clinical studies that one in every five people develops heart failure at least once in their lifetime. Some of the common risk factors for congestive heart failure include:

  • age
  • physical inactivity
  • hypertension
  • obesity
  • smoking
  • diabetes
  • a family history of heart failure
  • metabolic syndrome
  • certain types of valvular heart disease
  • enlargement of the left ventricle
  • heart attack in the past
  • exposure to certain types of chemotherapy and radiation
  • infection of the heart muscle


  • Shortness of breath, cough or a feeling of not being able to breathe deeply. This difficulty in breathing is especially experienced when the person is lying down.
  • Exercise intolerance: a person going through congestive heart failure may find it difficult to sustain an exercise; even mild physical exertion may set the clock ticking low. This is because the body needs more oxygen and nutrients during any type of physical activity and a heart that cannot pump blood efficiently can hinder one’s ability to function better.
  • Swelling and fluid retention: swelling in the legs, ankles and feet may occur, especially at the end of the day or after sitting for longer durations. The swelling may get so severe as to reach the hips, abdominal wall and the abdominal cavity.

Read more articles on Heart Health.


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