What is Congestive Heart Failure? Can I Prevent It?

Heart Disease Risk QuizMore than 5 million Americans live with Congestive Heart Failure, and heart failure costs the United States more than $32 billion dollars each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Congestive heart failure affects all ages including children, adolescents, adults and the elderly, and is equally prevalent among women and men. There are two conditions that cause congestive heart failure; systolic dysfunction and diastolic dysfunction. Systolic dysfunction is when the heart muscle becomes weak and cannot pump blood adequately. Diastolic dysfunction is when the heart muscle becomes very thick and stiff making it difficult for the heart to fill with blood (often a result of poorly controlled high blood pressure and a frequent causes of heart failure hospital admissions in women).

Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart is not able to pump blood to all the organs and tissues of the body (either because it is too weak or because it is not filling well enough). Instead of going where it needs to go, fluid can back up into different organs in the body. This fluid “congestion” is what gives this condition its name. Initial symptoms of congestive heart failure are swelling, heavy breathing and fatigue.

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure

Some examples of the effect congestive heart failure can have on different organs of the body are:

  • The lungs can become congested – called a pulmonary edema – which can lead to breathing problems, a decreased ability to exercise, and fatigue.
  • Fluid can build up in the liver, which decreases its ability to get rid of the body’s toxins and create important proteins needed to function.
  • The Gastro-intestinal tract can be affected and may become less likely to absorb much-needed nutrients and medicines.
  • Fluid also commonly swells up in the ankles, feet, legs and arms – called edema.
  • Eventually, if untreated, all parts of the body can be negatively affected.

The good news is that congestive heart failure can be prevented!

Preventing Congestive Heart Failure

  • Regularly monitor your blood pressure and if you are diagnosed with hypertension work with your physician to develop the best approach to lower it. Blood pressure control is the best way to stop congestive heart failure from occurring
  • Quit smoking
  • Lose weight (if you are overweight)
  • Exercise more often – it is recommended to exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week in order to keep your heart healthy and reduce risk of developing coronary artery disease
  • Surgery, when appropriate, for those patients with congestive heart failure due to valvular disease.
  • Medication – work with your Emory Women’s Heart Center specialist to develop the best treatment plan for you if you have had a heart attack or have high blood pressure. This will ensure your heart maintains the best condition possible as you move forward.


Heart Disease Screening

Heart disease may be prevented if you are motivated to take the necessary steps to protect your heart! Schedule your comprehensive cardiovascular screening today to assess your risk for heart disease and to develop your personalized prevention plan.

Take action today to potentially save a life!

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About the Emory Women’s Heart Center

Emory Women’s Heart Center is a unique program dedicated to screening, preventing and treating heart disease in women. The Center, led by nationally renowned cardiologist Gina Lundberg, MD provides comprehensive cardiac risk assessment and screenings for patients at risk for heart disease as well as full range of treatment options for women already diagnosed with heart disease care. Find out if you are at risk for heart disease by scheduling your comprehensive cardiac screening. Call 404-778-7777.

Alexis Cutchins, MD is Assistant Professor of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Cutchins completed medical school at Emory University School of Medicine before going to New York Presbyterian Hospital for her Internship and Residency in Internal Medicine. She completed an NIH-supported research fellowship in Vascular Biology and a clinical fellowship in Cardiovascular Diseases at the University of Virginia in 2012. She has a special interest in heart disease in women in addition to heart disease prevention and risk reduction in cardiology patients.


About Dr. Cutchins

Dr. Alexis CutchinsDr. Cutchins has published several different articles on adipose tissue distribution and obesity in journals such as Circulation Research, Arteriosclerosis Thrombosis and Vascular Biology and Stroke and has a special interest in the effects of adipose tissue distribution on the heart.

Dr. Cutchins is board certified in Internal Medicine (2007) and Cardiovascular Diseases (2012). She is a member of several professional organizations including the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology.

Dr. Cutchins sees patients at Emory Heart & Vascular Center at Emory University Hospital Midtown and Emory Heart & Vascular Center at Emory Saint Joseph’s.
She enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband, their three daughters and their dog. She loves to cook and ride horses.

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  • Darlene W.

    My daughter has Congestive heart failure, but she doesn’t have any health insurance. Is there any program that you have that could help her?

    • If your daughter is a resident of Fulton county then Grady Hospital is a great option. They have an extensive cardiac program and if she can establish care with a Grady cardiologist but needs further subspecialty management of her heart failure they may be able to refer her on to a specialist elsewhere.