Congestive Heart Failure Overview


Congestive heart failure is a medical condition in which the heart cannot supply enough oxygenated blood to meet the needs of other organs in the body. In congestive heart failure, the heart continues to pump but it is not as efficient as a healthy heart. This diminished capacity usually reflects another progressive, underlying condition.

Patients seeking congestive heart failure treatment can receive world-class care from some of the country's leading cardiovascular specialists at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston.

Causes of congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure may result from a number of causes, including:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Heart valve diseases
  • Infections of the heart valves and/or heart muscle
  • Previous heart attacks – scar tissue from prior damage may make it difficult for the heart muscle to pump normally
  • Coronary artery disease that causes a narrowing of the arteries which supply blood to the heart
  • Cardiomyopathy and other diseases of the heart muscle
  • Congenital heart disease or defects
  • Cardiac arrhythmias

Symptoms of congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure limits the kidneys' function of eliminating excess sodium and waste products, causing the body to retain more fluid and resulting in swelling of the ankles and legs. Fluid may also collect in the lungs causing shortness of breath. Other symptoms of heart failure include:

  • Shortness of breath during exertion, at rest, or while lying flat.
  • Weight gain.
  • Weakness and fatigue.
  • Nausea, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite.
  • A persistent cough that can produce blood-tinged sputum.

Treatment for congestive heart failure at BWH

As a world-renowned leader in clinical and academic cardiology, the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at BWH provides innovative and comprehensive care for patients with congestive heart failure and other disorders of the heart, blood vessels, and circulation. The Heart & Vascular Center is the most advanced cardiovascular care facility of its kind in the region and is equipped with the most advanced technologies available.

Depending on a number of factors, including the severity of the condition and the patient's overall health history, treatment for congestive heart failure at BWH may include:

  • Medication to decrease pressure inside the blood vessels, reduce fluid in the body, make the heart beat stronger, or regulate the heart rhythm.
  • Resynchronization therapy, a new type of pacemaker that coordinates rhythm in both pumping chambers of the heart.
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, an arrhythmia treatment device that helps the heart maintain a normal rhythm.
  • Ventricular assist devices to take over the pumping function for one or both of the heart's ventricles.
  • Heart transplant.

In addition to treatment for congestive heart failure, patients at BWH may be treated for a broad spectrum of heart conditions, including cardiac amyloidosis, pulmonary vascular disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and cardiac arrhythmias. BWH is also a leading provider of services for women and heart disease.

Learn more about Congestive Heart Failure and other Cardiovascular Conditions at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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