Checking your heart
Concerning Your Health
Dr. Thomas Thorson
What is congestive heart failure?
As congestive heart failure develops, blood moves through the heart and body at a slower rate, increasing pressure in the heart. Since the heart isn’t pumping enough oxygen and nutrients to meet what the body requires, the heart chambers respond by stretching or becoming stiff, which helps pump more blood through the body. But eventually this weakens heart muscle walls, which in turn causes the kidneys to respond by holding fluid and salt. When this fluid accumulates in the extremities, lungs and other organs, the body becomes congested; hence, the term congestive heart failure.
What causes congestive heart failure?
Congestive heart failure, also commonly referred to as heart failure, can be caused by many factors. Primary ones are Coronary artery disease, a disease of the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart; heart attack, which occurs when coronary artery/s become suddenly blocked and stop blood flow to the heart; Cardiomyopathy most often caused by infections or substance abuse; and chronic conditions that overwork the heart such as high blood pressure, thyroid disease, diabetes and heart valve or kidney disease.
How would I know if congestive heart failure is developing?
Congestive heart failure can occur slowly over many years and symptoms vary depending on the type of heart condition that develops, so many people don’t recognize the subtle changes or attribute them to aging, less physical activity and other lifestyle related changes. Ultimately, congestive heart failure culminates in a heart attack. Even prior to a heart attack, you may notice less acute symptoms similar to those associated with heart attack: shortness of breath, ongoing fatigue, pressure, heaviness or pain in the chest, irregular or faster heart beat, heart palpitations, weakness, dizziness nausea and/or sweating. The earlier congestive heart failure is diagnosed, the less permanent damage there is likely to be to the heart. If you are older than 50 or have a family history of high blood pressure or heart disease and are not having an annual exam, begin now.
How is congestive heart failure diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform standard painless procedures, such as using a stethoscope to listen to your heart, taking your pulse to check your heart rate and checking your blood pressure. Your doctor can evaluate heart and valve function and hear your heart’s rate and rhythm by listening to pulse and heart rates. Your doctor can also tell about your heart’s function by examining other parts of your body, such as your eyes, arms, legs, and skin. There is no cure for heart failure, but advances in technology have greatly improved treatment methods and outcomes.
Thomas Thorson, MD, is a board certified family medicine physician at Sanford East Mandan Clinic. A graduate of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine at Grand Forks, Dr. Thorson completed his residency at the University of North Dakota Center for Family Medicine in Bismarck. He is proficient in Spanish and has special medical interests in mental health, chronic disease management and preventative care.