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The Scoop

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What is congestive heart failure?

Statement issued Wednesday:

The American Heart Association joins the world in mourning the loss of film legend Elizabeth Taylor, who passed away this morning at age 79. Following is more information about congestive heart failure.

Heart Failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs. Heart failure is a serious condition, but it does not mean that the heart has stopped beating. Heart failure is called congestive heart failure when fluid accumulates in various parts of the body.

More than 5 million Americans are living with heart failure today. Heart failure was a contributing cause of 282,754 deaths in the US in 2006 (latest statistics available).

What can happen?

• Heart does not pump enough blood.

• Blood backs up in veins.

• Fluid builds up, causing swelling in feet, ankles and legs. This is called “edema.”

• Body holds too much fluid.

• Fluid builds up in lungs, called “pulmonary congestion.”

• Body does not get enough blood, food and oxygen.

What are the signs?

• Shortness of breath, especially when lying down

• Tired, run-down feeling

• Coughing or wheezing, especially when you exercise or lie down

• Swelling in feet, ankles and legs

• Weight gain from fluid buildup

• Confusion or can’t think clearly

What are the causes?

• Clogged arteries don’t let enough blood flow to the heart.

• Past heart attack has done some damage to the heart muscle.

• Heart defects present since birth.

• High blood pressure.

• Heart valve disease.

• Diseases of the heart muscle.

• Infection of the heart and/or heart valves.

• Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmias).

How is it treated?

• Your doctor may give you medicine to strengthen your heart and water pills to help your body get rid of excess fluids.

• Your doctor will recommend a low-sodium (salt) diet

• Your may be provided oxygen for use at home.

• Your doctor may recommend certain lifestyle changes.

• Surgery or cardiac devices may be needed, in some cases.

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