February is all about love, chocolates, flowers … and taking care of our hearts as American Heart Month reminds us. The campaign spotlights causes, treatment, and preventive measures against heart disease that currently affects 82.6 million Americans. Among the many manifestations of heart disease is congestive heart failure, or CHF. More than 5 million Americans have CHF, with 550,000 new cases diagnosed each year. So what can seniors who have been diagnosed with CHF do to manage symptoms of this chronic condition? Keep reading to learn more about congestive heart failure as a topic of the Amada Health Literacy education program for seniors and their families.

What is Congestive Heart Failure?

CHF occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as efficiently as it should. It cannot keep pace with the body’s demand, with blood returning to the heart faster than it can be pumped away, becoming backed up or congested. Accordingly, not enough oxygen-rich blood reaches other organs.

What are some CHF Symptoms?

Symptoms of CHF may include:

  • Shortness of breath with activity or when lying down
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged mucus
  • Swelling of the belly area (abdomen)
  • Very rapid weight gain from fluid buildup
  • Nausea and lack of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness
  • Chest pain if heart failure is caused by a heart attack

Some of these symptoms can point to other diseases and conditions, so diagnosing may include an electrocardiogram (EKG), chest X-ray, echocardiogram, BNP blood test, holter monitor, and exercise stress test.

Click image for American Heart Association statistics.

What are Some Recommendations for Managing CHF?

Consider Making Small Changes in Your Senior Diet and Lifestyle

While there is no cure for CHF, experts affirm it doesn’t mean immediate heart failure.  If you are diagnosed, diet and lifestyle changes should be imminent including avoiding salt which causes fluid retention, and eliminating caffeine, which can cause irregular heartbeat. Recommended fluid intake varies and fluctuates with changes in the condition. Your physician will advise on this. An exercised-based cardiac rehabilitation program can result in fewer hospitalizations and better quality of life.

Ask Your Cardiologist About Heart Medications

Common medications to help control CHF include:

  • Vasodilators to expand blood vessels, ease blood flow, and reduce blood pressure
  • Diuretics to correct fluid retention
  • Aldosterone inhibitors to help with fluid retention and improve chances of living longer
  • ACE inhibitors or ARB drugs to improve heart function and life expectancy
  • Digitalis glycosides to strengthen the heart’s contractions
  • Anticoagulants or antiplatelets such as aspirin to help prevent blood clots
  • Beta-blockers to improve heart function and chances of living longer
  • Tranquilizers to reduce anxiety

Discuss Options for Heart Surgery with Your Doctor

Surgical procedures to open or bypass blocked arteries or replace heart valves are recommended in the most severe cases. A biventricular pacemaker helps both sides of the heart work together. An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) or ventricular assist device (VAD) may also be considered. Heart transplant surgery is the last resort, with success rates of about 88% after one year and 75% after five years.

Talk to Your Healthcare Team About any Additional Treatments

Sleep apnea, where the muscles that allow air into the lungs collapse briefly and repeatedly over many hours, is linked to heart failure. Evaluation will determine this, with more and varied devices available on the market as technology improves.

Living with CHF

In addition to diet and lifestyle changes, and medication, be sure to monitor symptoms. CHF does worsen over time, so be familiar with any changes in your body. With swelling in the lower extremities a common indicator that excess fluid is accumulating, getting a daily weight will be a key component in pivoting to make necessary changes.

Experts say CHF does not mean you cannot live a long, productive life. Anxiety and depression can be common byproducts, so having an outlet such as a strong social network, hobby, or attending group or individual counseling can make a big difference in outcomes. If you would like to learn more about how a trained caregiver with Amada Senior Care can help you or a loved one mange the symptoms of CHF at home, please CLICK HERE to find our nearest office.


“Are We Close to a Cure for CHF?,” written by Beth Herman, Amada blog contributor.