Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure of CHF, is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. In some cases, the heart can't fill with enough blood. In other cases, the heart can't pump blood to the rest of the body with enough force. Some people have both problems. The term "heart failure" doesn't mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop working. However, heart failure is a serious condition that requires medical care.

Heart failure develops over time as the heart's pumping action grows weaker. The condition can affect the right side of the heart only, or it can affect both sides of the heart. Most cases involve both sides of the heart.

Right-side heart failure occurs if the heart can't pump enough blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen. Left-side heart failure occurs if the heart can't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.

Right-side heart failure may cause fluid to build up in the feet, ankles, legs, liver, abdomen, and the veins in the neck. Right-side and left-side heart failure also may cause shortness of breath and fatigue (tiredness).

The leading causes of heart failure are diseases that damage the heart. Examples include ischemic heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Heart Failure

The Cooper Heart Institute is the most comprehensive heart care center in southern New Jersey, providing world-class cardiac care — in your neighborhood. Our physicians are experts in the treatment of heart failure and we were named a high performing hospital for heart failure for 2019-20 by U.S. News & World Report's Best Hospitals survey. Utilizing the latest technology available to pinpoint and treat all types of heart problems, we produce superior outcomes for our patients.

Other feature of our heart programs include:

  • Nationally and internationally renowned clinical and interventional cardiologists 
  • The most advanced minimally invasive techniques
  • Largest volume of cardiothoracic surgery in the region
  • Recognized by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons for superior surgical outcomes 
  • Women’s Heart program with the largest female cardiology group in South Jersey
  • State-of-the-art diagnostic capabilities
  • Individualized care designed to meet your needs

Causes of Heart Failure

Conditions that damage or overwork the heart muscle can cause heart failure. Over time, the heart weakens. It isn’t able to fill with and/or pump blood as well as it should. As the heart weakens, certain proteins and substances might be released into the blood. These substances have a toxic effect on the heart and blood flow, and they worsen heart failure.

Causes of heart failure include:

  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Other heart conditions or diseases
  • Other factors

Other factors also can injure the heart muscle and lead to heart failure. Examples include:

  • Alcohol abuse or cocaine and other illegal drug use
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Thyroid disorders (having either too much or too little thyroid hormone in the body)
  • Too much vitamin E
  • Treatments for cancer, such as radiation and chemotherapy

Treatments for Heart Failure

Treatments for congestive heart failure usually include heart-healthy lifestyle changes, medicines, and ongoing care. If you have severe heart failure, you also may need medical procedures or surgery.

Your doctor may recommend heart-healthy lifestyle changes if you have heart failure, including:

  • Heart-healthy eating
  • Aiming for a healthy weight
  • Physical activity
  • Quitting smoking

Your doctor will prescribe medicines based on the type of heart failure you have, how severe it is, and your response to certain medicines. The following medicines are commonly used to treat heart failure: 

  • ACE inhibitors lower blood pressure and reduce strain on your heart. They also may reduce the risk of a future heart attack.
  • Aldosterone antagonists trigger the body to remove excess sodium through urine. This lowers the volume of blood that the heart must pump.
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers relax your blood vessels and lower blood pressure to decrease your heart’s workload.
  • Beta blockers slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure to decrease your heart’s workload.
  • Digoxin makes the heart beat stronger and pump more blood.
  • Diuretics (fluid pills) help reduce fluid buildup in your lungs and swelling in your feet and ankles.

Take all medicines regularly, as your doctor prescribes. Don’t change the amount of your medicine or skip a dose unless your doctor tells you to. You should still follow a heart healthy lifestyle, even if you take medicines to treat your heart failure.

Ongoing Care for Patients With Heart Failure

You should watch for signs that heart failure is getting worse. For example, weight gain may mean that fluids are building up in your body. Ask your doctor how often you should check your weight and when to report weight changes.

Getting medical care for other related conditions is important. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, work with your health care team to control these conditions. Have your blood sugar level and blood pressure checked. Talk with your doctor about when you should have tests and how often to take measurements at home.

Try to avoid respiratory infections like the flu and pneumonia. Talk with your doctor or nurse about getting flu and pneumonia vaccines.

Many people who have severe heart failure may need treatment in a hospital from time to time. Your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy, which can be given in a hospital or at home.

Medical Procedures and Surgery for Heart Failure

As heart failure worsens, lifestyle changes and medicines may no longer control your symptoms. You may need a medical procedure or surgery.

In heart failure, the right and left sides of the heart may no longer contract at the same time. This disrupts the heart’s pumping. To correct this problem, your doctor might implant a cardiac resynchronization therapy device (a type of pacemaker) near your heart. This device helps both sides of your heart contract at the same time, which can decrease heart failure symptoms.

Some people who have heart failure have very rapid, irregular heartbeats. Without treatment, these heartbeats can cause sudden cardiac arrest. Your doctor might implant an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) near your heart to solve this problem. An ICD checks your heart rate and uses electrical pulses to correct irregular heart rhythms.

People who have severe heart failure symptoms at rest, despite other treatments, may need:

  • A mechanical heart pump, such as a left ventricular assist device. This device helps pump blood from the heart to the rest of the body. You may use a heart pump until you have surgery or as a long-term treatment.
  • Heart transplant. A heart transplant is an operation in which a person’s diseased heart is replaced with a healthy heart from a deceased donor. Heart transplants are done as a life-saving measure for end-stage heart failure when medical treatment and less drastic surgery have failed.

Make an Appointment With a Cooper Heart Failure Specialist

To make an appointment with a Cooper Heart Institute physician or to schedule diagnostic testing, call 800.8.COOPER (800.826.6737).