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Congestive Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathies

What are congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathies?
Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to supply the body’s needs. Instead of moving forward, the blood backs up in the veins and causes congestion of the lungs and tissue. Congestive heart failure most often occurs when the heart muscle is weakened, but some patients with very stiff and rigid hearts can also develop congestive heart failure.
Congestive Heart Failure
Cardiomyopathy is a process that affects the heart muscle and the way that the muscle effectively pumps blood. There are different kinds of cardiomyopathies. In some cases, the heart muscle can become very weakened. In other forms of cardiomyopathy the heart muscle is thick and rigid and the heart cannot fill normally with blood. The type of heart failure that develops as a result of stiffness of the heart muscle is seen more often in women than in men.
What are the risk factors for congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathies?
There are many risk factors for congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, alcoholism, some chemotherapy medications, heart valve disease and viruses. Postpartum cardiomyopathy is a rare, but serious complication that may occur in women in the last weeks of pregnancy or during the first few weeks after delivery. If a woman has had postpartum cardiomyopathy, she is at risk for recurrence if she becomes pregnant again.

What are the warning signs?
Symptoms of congestive heart failure include shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling in the ankles, feet, legs and abdomen. Some people with cardiomyopathy may have no symptoms, but others may experience severe symptoms.

How are congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathies diagnosed and treated?
History and physical exam are the first steps in determining if a patient has heart failure. If this diagnosis is suspected, chest x-ray, echocardiography and blood tests are used to diagnose congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathies. If needed, other tests, such as stress tests, coronary angiograms and cardiac MRIs may be performed.

Medical treatment is very important for improvement of symptoms, and can sometimes restore the heart to its normal function. Medications include beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, diuretics and digoxin among others. Lifestyle modifications, such as changes in diet and salt intake, and exercise programs are typically advised. In selected patients, special kinds of implantable devices may be useful in restoring the heart muscle function or preventing life-threatening arrhythmias.

To make an appointment with a Women’s Heart NY physician, please call
(877) WOMEN-00/(877) 966-3600.

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