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What is the Connection Between Edema and Congestive Heart Failure?

By H. Colledge
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The condition known as edema involves fluid building up in body tissues, causing swelling. Edema and congestive heart failure are connected because edema can occur as a result of congestive heart failure. In congestive heart failure, the heart fails to pump an adequate amount of blood around the body. Back pressure of blood leads to an increase in the pressure within the smallest blood vessels, and fluid leaks out into the tissues, which causes edema. In severe cases, fluid may also leak from tiny blood vessels in the lungs, causing what is known as pulmonary edema.

Congestive heart failure has a number of causes, but one of the most common is probably narrowing of the coronary arteries, which reduces the blood supply to the heart muscle and prevents it from functioning normally. A heart attack can also cause the heart to fail as it damages heart muscle and causes it to die off. Drugs, heart valve defects, high blood pressure and an overactive thyroid gland may all lead to heart failure. Symptoms of congestive heart failure include breathlessness, both when exercising and when lying flat, possibly associated with a cough, and edema of the lower limbs, particularly ankle edema. In a person who has congestive heart failure and edema, it is also possible that the liver may become swollen.

As well as swelling of tissues under the skin, the physical signs and the symptoms of edema can include the skin appearing shiny and remaining depressed after pressure from a finger. When edema pathophysiology involves the lungs, chest pain may be experienced as well as breathing difficulties. In cases where edema and congestive heart failure lead to pulmonary edema, the condition is serious, and emergency treatment in the hospital is generally required.

Where edema and congestive heart failure is less severe and does not affect the lungs, but there is more generalized edema of the peripheries, drugs known as ACE inhibitors and beta blockers may be used to regulate body fluids and protect the heart. Other drugs called diuretics can help the kidneys remove the excess fluid that leads to edema. Any underlying disease affecting the heart is generally treated if possible to improve the heart's function.

Patients with edema and congestive heart failure may be able to help their condition by making changes to their diet and exercise regime, losing weight and giving up smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. The outlook for people with edema and congestive heart failure is often poor, as the condition usually worsens, but an individual's prognosis depends on the severity of the disease. In some cases, it is possible for the symptoms to stabilize for a number of years, with treatment.

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