Congestive heart failure ("CHF") is a condition in which the heart does not pump as much blood as it is supposed to. This leads to the blood not being able to move through the body the way it should. The body, unable to get as much oxygen as it requires, may respond by causing the heart to stretch out and hold more blood. Eventually, due to the inefficiency of the heart, the kidneys cause the body to retain fluid; this buildup of fluid may cause congestion.
If you have an elderly loved one who is at risk of developing CHF, or has already been diagnosed with it, there are some things you need to watch out for. Here are the stages and symptoms of CHF. Keep in mind that heart failure is progressive--meaning it gets worse as time goes by--so if you have an elderly loved one with this condition, it is important that you take measures to prevent the condition from worsening.
People in the first stage technically may not have experienced any heart failure yet. People in this stage are those who are at high risk for developing heart failure. People in this stage include those with: high blood pressure; a family history of heart disease; diabetes; a history of abusing alcohol or drugs; coronary artery disease; a history of rheumatic fever; and other risk factors.
If your loved one is in stage A, there may very well not be any outward symptoms. Nevertheless, it is important to monitor him or her and encourage healthy life choices, including a regular exercise program. There are also some medications available which may be suitable for people in this stage.
People in the second stage have been diagnosed with a heart issue, but have never exhibited symptoms of heart failure. This includes people who may have suffered a previous heart attack. In addition to healthy life choices, there are certain medications available for people in this stage. Further, in some cases, surgery to repair coronary arteries or damaged valves may be necessary.
People in the third stage have been diagnosed with heart failure and are exhibiting symptoms, including shortness of breath, fatigue, and a decreased ability to exercise. In addition to healthy life choices there are certain medications available which may help people in this stage avoid progressing further. Remember that heart failure can never be reversed; at best, you can slow down or halt its progress. Some surgeries may also be recommended for patients in this stage, including implanting a cardiac defibrillator.
People in this stage are exhibiting severe heart failure symptoms even after they have obtained medical care. In addition to the treatments for the previous three stages, people in this stage may be considered for a heart transplant and other advanced life-saving measures. This stage can be fatal.
Symptoms of heart failure
Remember that symptoms may come and go, so it is not a good idea to try to self-diagnose heart failure. If you have any reason to believe your elderly loved one may have CHF, you need to get him or her medical attention immediately.
Symptoms of heart failure include congested lungs. When the lungs have fluid built up on them a patient will experience shortness of breath, difficulty exercising, difficulty in breathing properly, and sometimes a persistent cough. Wheezing may also be present. Fluid retention will begin to manifest itself. This can cause swelling in the extremities, an increased need to urinate, swollen abdomen, and nausea. Loss of appetite may also be present.
A lack of blood flow to the heart and organs will cause dizziness and other symptoms. Further, the heart may beat irregularly in an attempt to pump enough blood throughout the body.
CHF is a very serious condition. You should monitor your elderly loved one closely and seek immediate medical attention if you believe he or she may be suffering from heart failure.
American Heart Association. Warning Signs of Heart Failure. Available at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/WarningSignsforHeartFailure/Warning-Signs-of-Heart-Failure_UCM_002045_Article.jsp#.VjecCGtqCUm. Last visited November 2, 2015.
Webmd.com (website). Heart Disease and Congestive Heart Failure. Available at http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide-heart-failure. Last visited October 28, 2015.