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Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Heart Rhythm

The Heart Muscles cannot Properly Pump Blood

Most people think that congestive heart failure (CHF) means the heart is no longer working, but the truth is the heart still works but in a limited way. The heart is mainly muscle and when the muscles of the heart can no longer pump blood the way they are supposed to, then this is called heart failure or congestive heart failure. Sometimes the heart and the right or left ventricles that pump blood become too stiff, possibly from high blood pressure, or over stretched and cannot do their job properly. It is more common for problems to begin with the left ventricle, which is the heart’s main pumping ventricle. Heart failure can also lead to kidney and liver damage. Congestive heart failure can be life threatening and in some cases a person may need to have a heart transplant.

Causes of Heart Failure

  • Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the most common cause of heart failure and heart attacks. This causes a buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries that leads to narrowing and congestion.
  • Chronic High Blood Pressure causes the heart to over-exert itself and eventually becomes weak or stiff.
  • Damage to the heart valves because of CAD, defects or infections like strep
  • Damage to the muscles of the heart (cardiomyopathy) can be from genes, infections, drugs, alcohol, smoking or certain medicines that can lead to muscle damage.
  • Inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) is often from a viral infection which can cause left-sided heart failure.
  • Congenital heart defects are when the infant’s heart did not develop properly before birth and this can lead to heart failure.
  • Abnormal heart beats (arrhythmias) occur when the heart beats too fast (tachycardia) or too slowly.
  • Chronic diseases like diabetes and HIV
  • Thyroid problems either hyperthyroid (too high) or hypothyroid (too low) can cause heart failure.
  • Abnormal buildups of iron or protein in the heart can lead to heart failure.
  • Obesity forces the heart to work harder and eventually this can lead to heart failure.
  • Acute viral or bacterial infections can damage the heart and lead to failure.
  • Allergic reactions can affect the heart. For instance anaphylactic shock can cause blood pressure to drop way too low or to zero, the heart stops beating and this is sometimes a cause of death.
  • Lung diseases and blood clots in the lungs can lead to heart failure. Lung problems make breathing difficult and this makes a terrible strain on the heart.
  • Disruptive sleep apnea is when a person stops breathing periodically during sleep and this weakens the heart.

Symptoms that Might be from Heart Failure

  • Feeling short of breath (dyspnea) while working and also while resting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Swollen ankles, legs and feet (edema)
  • Fast heart beat (tachycardia)
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Exercise is difficult
  • Cough and/or wheezing with white or blood tinged phlegm
  • Urinating a lot at night
  • Swelling of the abdomen that may be ascites
  • Gaining weight quickly from water retention
  • No appetite (anorexia)
  • Nausea
  • Concentration problems – less alert
  • Chest pain which could be a heart attack
  • Coughing that leads to choking or feeling unable to breathe and bringing up blood tinged sputum

Types of Heart Failure

  • Left-sided heart failure can cause fluid to go into the lungs that causes shortness of breath.
  • Right-sided heart failure can cause fluid to get backed up into the abdomen, legs, ankles and feet.
  • Systolic heart failure results from the inability of the left ventricle to properly pump the heart.
  • Diastolic heart failure occurs when the left ventricle cannot contract or fill up properly.


While many condition of heart failure cannot be reversed, lifestyle changes can help to prolong life such as:

  • Getting enough physical exercise
  • Losing weight
  • Managing stress
  • Eating a heart healthy diet like the Mediterranean Diet that includes extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)  as the sole dietary oil and fat.

Rehabilitation after a Heart Attack or Surgery

The Ditmas Park Rehab and Care Center in Brooklyn NY, a 5-star facility is known for its expertise in heart care and offers cardio and cardiopulmonary rehabilitation. They also have an outstanding post cardiac surgery exercise program and a lifestyle modification program to reduce the risks for further coronary problems.

Brooklyn Hospitals near Ditmas Park

New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital

NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn (formerly named NYU Lutheran Medical Center)

SUNY Downstate Medical Center – University Hospital of Brooklyn

NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County

Maimonides Medical Center


Heart failure has many causes, but with the right treatment and lifestyle changes, life can be prolonged.

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