Resources at Hebrew SeniorLife

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure is a life-threatening condition. As the heart loses its ability to pump blood efficiently throughout the body, other organs, including the liver and lungs, can be damaged because they don't receive enough oxygen and nutrients to function properly.


A condition in which the heart does not pump as well as it should to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the body's cells


Weak pumping action of the heart, which causes buildup of fluid in the lungs and other body tissues


Left-sided congestive heart failure

  • Shortness of breath
  • Buildup of fluid in the lungs
  • Cough, especially at night

Right-sided congestive heart failure

  • Buildup of fluid in veins
  • Swelling of feet, ankles and legs
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Weight gain from excess fluid
  • Fast or irregular heart beat
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion

Risk Factors

  • Previous heart attack
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Hypertension
  • Arrhythmia
  • Heart valve disease
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Alcohol or drug abuse


  • Physical exam
  • Chest X-ray
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Echocardiogram
  • Angiogram
  • Nuclear scan
  • Blood tests


  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  • Beta blockers
  • Diuretics (water pills)
  • Digoxin
  • Adolsterone agonists
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator
  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy
  • Heart pump


ACE inhibitor - a drug that helps blood vessels relax by blocking the formation of naturally-occurring chemicals that narrow the blood vessels.

Aldosterone agonists - drugs that regulate the balance of salt and water in the body.

Angiotensin II receptor blocker - a drug that blocks the action of angiotensin II, allowing blood vessels to relax and widen, which lowers blood pressure.

Angiogram - an X-ray of blood vessels.

Arrhythmia - an abnormal heart rhythm.

Beta blocker - a drug that decreases the heart rate and force of the heart's contractions to lower blood pressure.

Cardiac resynchronization therapy - the placement of a pacemaker that sends timed electrical impulses to both of the heart's lower chambers so they pump together and in a more efficient, coordinated manner.

Coronary artery disease - a disease that begins when cholesterol substances called plaques are deposited within a coronary artery and obstruct the flow of blood to the heart.

Digoxin - a drug that strengthens heart muscle contractions and tends to slow the heart beat.

Diuretic - a drug that acts on the kidneys to help eliminate sodium and water from the body, thus reducing blood volume.

Echocardiogram - an ultrasound of the heart that provides an accurate assessment of the heart's overall health and can diagnose abnormalities.

Electrocardiogram - a recording of the heart's electrical activity.

Heart attack - the death of heart muscle due to loss of blood supply.

Heart pump - a mechanical device implanted into the abdomen and attached to a weakened heart to help it pump.

Heart valve disease - a condition in which the valves separating the heart's four chambers do not operate efficiently.

Hypertension - a medical condition in which blood pressure (the force applied to the walls of arteries as the heart pumps blood through the body) is consistently higher than 140 systolic and 90 diastolic.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator - a device implanted under the skin and attached with small wires to monitor heart rhythm and, if irregular, to shock it back to a normal rhythm.

Nuclear scan - a diagnostic procedure that uses a safe radioactive agent to help diagnose heart diseases.  


American Heart Association -
National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute -

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