What Causes Chronic Heart Failure? Factors, Symptoms, and Prevention

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and of the ways in which your heart can shut down, chronic heart failure—also sometimes referred to as congestive heart failure—may be one of the scariest.

CHF occurs when your heart simply can't pump blood the way it should. It affects as many as 200,000 Americans each year, and there is no cure.

Chronic Heart Failure can lead to complete heart failure and death, so clearly, it isn't something to be taken lightly.

What Do We Mean By Chronic Heart Failure?

Heart failure simply means the heart isn't able to do its job of moving blood adequately through the body.

chronic heart failureAs a result, your body doesn't work the way it is supposed to, because oxygen isn't transported as it should be, circulation is limited, and more.

The most common symptoms of chronic heart failure are:

  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heartbeat (the heart works harder to try and circulate blood)
  • Shortness of breath (not enough oxygen is being transported throughout the body)
  • Swollen legs (blood may pool there as your heart struggles to circulate it back up to the heart)

More troubling, congestive (or chronic) heart failure often isn't caught until it has become a major problem, simply because the onset of symptoms frequently occurs over the course of years, meaning individuals with chronic heart failure often don't realize anything is wrong until it is very, very wrong.

The most common causes of chronic heart failure are things you might already suspect—heart disease, previous heart trauma, and hypertension, or high blood pressure.

What you may not suspect is that diabetes is also a major contributing factor.

If you have any of the above factors, it's likely your doctor has already discussed with you your risk of chronic heart failure.

graphic of heart chronic heart failureIn general, congenital heart failure develops over time and can manifest in several ways, depending on which side of the heart is failing.

For instance, if the right side of the heart is failing, the heart is unable to adequately pump oxygenated blood effectively, and shortness of breath is a common side effect.

If the left side of the heart is affected, the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the rest of the body.

Of course, most often CHF affects both sides of the heart.

Factors that Contribute to an Increased Risk of Chronic Heart Failure

It may not surprise you that these are in general the same factors that contribute to an increased risk of any cardiovascular disease:

  • Alcohol (particularly when not used in moderation)
  • Diet (especially high fat and salt content)
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Most often, however, individuals who are at a high risk of CHF because of these lifestyle choices may have no idea that they are at risk.

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Get Regular Checkups

This is another arena in which seeing your doctor on a regular basis, as well as taking ownership of your health in making healthier lifestyle choices, can be of tremendous benefit.

Less well-known causes of CHF include:

  • Arrhythmias
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Myocarditis
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Arrhythmias are simply irregular heart rhythms.

chronic heart failureWhile not themselves a direct cause of CHF, they have been linked to each other, likely as a result of underlying issues with the health of the heart.

In particular, atrial fibrillation has shown a tremendous link to an increased risk of congestive heart failure.

Cardiomyopathy, which simply means disease of the heart muscle, is especially linked to chronic or congestive heart failure and can manifest in many different ways.

For instance, congestive or dilated cardiomyopathy means that the heart tissue stretches and weakens, meaning the heart is no longer able to pump effectively.

Other types of cardiomyopathy may affect the heart in different ways, but in each case, the diseased tissue is not able to function correctly, which causes the rest of the body great difficulties.

Myocarditis, or an irritation of the heart muscle, can cause similar issues.

If you think about your heart as a muscle, you can understand how irritation to that muscle can cause it to function less effeciently than it should, which can likewise have dire consequences—especially if the myocarditis may cause an arrhythmia which makes it difficult to pump blood effectively and efficiently.

Valvular heart disease can also cause congestive heart failure as blood may not have adequate pressure because of damage done to the valves, whether via aortic stenosis (a narrowing of the aortic valve) or even potentially leaky valves.
heart disease infographic

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Take the Steps to Avoid Heart Disease

Your best bet for avoiding congestive heart failure? Get regular check-ups and adjust your lifestyle to minimize those risk factors, because again, there is no cure.

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on chronic heart failure.