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Artery disease causes most congestive heart failure

By Judy Fortin
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The American Heart Association estimates nearly 5 million Americans are living with heart failure. More than half-a-million new cases are diagnosed each year. One of the most common forms is called congestive heart failure. CNN medical correspondent Judy Fortin learned more about it from cardiologist Dr. Wendy Book of Emory School of Medicine.

Fortin: What is congestive heart failure?

Book: Congestive heart failure simply means that the heart can no longer meet the demands of the body. People have a variety of symptoms including fluid buildup, difficulty breathing and swelling in their feet and belly. (Watch to learn more about lifestyle changes that can prevent heart failure. Video )

Fortin: Is there literally congestion?

Book: There is literally congestion of the lungs in particular and the liver and other organs.

Fortin: Is congestive heart failure most common in older adults?

Book: It is much more common as we get older.

Fortin: What is the most common cause?

Book: Coronary artery disease accounts for two-thirds of patients with congestive heart failure. The others have literally a hundred different things that can cause it.

Fortin: What are the signs and symptoms?

Book: The more common early signs and symptoms are general fatigue, tiredness when doing usual activities. You usually are able to run up the stairs and now you can't because of shortness of breath or fatigue in the legs. Some of the later signs include having to sit up at night to breathe, being unable to catch your breath and feeling like you have to sit up in order to catch your breath. Swelling of the feet and swelling of the abdomen are some of the other signs.

Fortin: How do you treat it?

Book: Congestive heart failure is treated with a number of things. There are a number of medications that can help prevent deterioration in the heart muscle. Beta blockers are one of the most important drugs. They block adrenaline which causes damage to the heart over time. Ace inhibitors are very effective too. Diet is very important. Following sodium and fluid restriction in some cases can help patients avoid some of the congestion. Exercise is also encouraged as well.

Fortin: How can you reduce the swelling?

Book: Many patients need to take a diuretic to reduce the swelling and the diuretics work best if patients also reduce the salt.

Fortin: What is the prognosis?

Book: The prognosis for congestive heart failure can vary greatly. Many, many years ago it was almost always fatal within a matter of five years or so. Now with advances in medicine over the last 20 years, the prognosis has improved dramatically for patients with heart failure.

Fortin: Is there any way to prevent it?

Book: There are many things we can do to prevent congestive heart failure and those are working on anything that prevents coronary artery disease. Keeping weight down, exercising, avoiding high cholesterol

Judy Fortin is a correspondent with CNN Medical News.


Symptoms of congestive heart failure can include fluid buildup, difficulty breathing and swelling in their feet and belly.


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