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Preventing Congestive Heart Failure

By Nancy Larson

Updated November 14, 2008

(LifeWire) - If you have a family history of congestive heart failure, does that mean you're destined to have it too? Not necessarily.

Heart failure doesn't mean a heart actually fails to work. It's a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to the organs, which consequently means they don't get enough oxygen, and blood builds up in the heart and lungs.

If one or more family members has congestive heart failure (CHF), the first step is to get a complete physical. Although anyone can develop CHF, heart failure is uncommon in someone younger than age 70. Heart failure may progress slowly and have no symptoms at first. If the cause of CHF can be treated, the disease can disappear. Usually, the disease isn't cured, but if it's caught early, patients can immediately take steps to keep it from getting worse and live longer, healthier lives.

Preventing CHF

Heart failure can be caused by several health conditions, such as high blood pressure; structural defects, such as dilated cardiomyopathy; and damage resulting from a heart attack.

Since factors, such as being overweight, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and using cocaine, increase your risk of heart disease and hasten its progression, you should take charge of your health by changing these habits to help ward off heart failure.

  • Manage Chronic Conditions: If you have high blood pressure or coronary artery disease -- the most common causes of heart failure -- get them under control, along with diabetes, high cholesterol and thyroid disorders.
  • Quit Smoking: Smoking is a habit that should be eliminated to help prevent CHF among other illnesses.
  • Eliminate or Limit Alcohol: If you must drink, then do not have more than two drinks a day for men or one for women.
  • Cut Back on Salt: Avoid not only table salt, but also processed and high-sodium foods, such as bacon, ham, chips and canned soups and vegetables.
  • Exercise: It is important to maintain an exercise regimen as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Lose Weight or Maintain a Healthy Weight: Watch what you eat and drop those pounds if you are overweight.

Congestive Heart Failure Warning Signs

If you're at risk for heart failure, you'll want to have any symptoms checked out as soon as possible by a doctor. Symptoms include:

  • Weight gain and swollen feet, ankles or abdomen caused by fluid buildup
  • Enlarged neck veins
  • Poor appetite, indigestion, nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing during activities or while lying down
  • Trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue and feeling faint
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dry hacking cough, especially while lying down
  • Frequent nighttime urination

If, despite your best efforts, you develop heart failure, it can be controlled by several means. Scientists are now looking at ways to use gene therapy to treat CHF.

Until then, successful treatment may include bringing underlying health conditions under control by taking prescribed angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta blockers or diuretics (water pills) or undergoing necessary medical interventions, such as angioplasty (using a balloon to open up arterial blockage) or stenting (widening an artery with a metal device).

Read more about heart failure here.


"Congestive Heart Failure." hmc.psu.edu. 2008. Pennsylvania State University. 3 Nov. 2008. <http://www.hmc.psu.edu/healthinfo/c/chf.htm>.

"Congestive Heart Failure." patienteducationcenter.org. 2008. Harvard Medical School. 3 Nov. 2008. <http://www.patienteducationcenter.org/aspx/HealthELibrary/HealthETopic.aspx?cid=213151>.

"Congestive Heart Failure ." texasheart institute.org. Aug. 2008. Texas Heart Institute. 3 Nov. 2008. <http://www.texasheartinstitute.org/hic/topics/cond/CHF.cfm>.

"Heart Failure." csmc.edu. 2008. Cedars-Sinai Health System. 3 Nov. 2008. <http://www.csmc.edu/5655.html>.

"Heart Failure." nlm.nih.gov. 17 Jul. 2006. National Institutes of Health. 3 Nov. 2008. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000158.htm>.

"How Can Heart Failure Be Prevented?" nhlib.nih.edu. 2008. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 3 Nov. 2008. <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Hf/HF_Prevention.html>.

White, Donald E., Pierre Coutu, Yan-Fen Shi, Jean-Claude Tardif, Stanley Nattel, Rene St. Arnaud, Shouk at Dedhur, and William J. Muller. "Targeted Ablation of ILK From the Murine Heart Results in Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Spontaneous Heart Failure." Genes and Development 20(2006): 2355-60. 3 Nov. 2008. <http://genesdev.cshlp.org/cgi/content/full/20/17/2355>. 

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Nancy Larson is a St. Louis-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in dozens of local and national print and online publications including CNN.com, The Weather Channel, Health magazine and The Advocate.

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