Congestive Heart Failure in the Elderly

By Elizabeth Thielke / Posted on 06 July 2009

iStock_000006626943XSmallCongestive heart failure (CHF) is a progressive disease that causes weakening of the heart and the cardiovascular system. It develops when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the demands of the body’s other organs. CHF is a progressive disorder that not only affects the heart, but other organs such as the lungs, the kidneys.

Though CHF may be caused by different things, there are other conditions can make it worse, and aging plays a large role in it’s risk. According to Heart Failure Online:

Heart failure is a cumulative consequence of all insults to the heart over someone’s life. It is estimated that nearly 5 million Americans have heart failure. The prevalence of heart failure approximately DOUBLES with each decade of life. As people live longer, the occurrence of heart failure rises, as well as other conditions that complicate its treatment.

Other possible causes of CHF include:

* narrowed arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle – coronary artery disease
* past heart attack, or myocardial infarction, with scar tissue that interferes with the heart muscle’s normal work
* high blood pressure
* heart valve disease due to past rheumatic fever or other causes
* primary disease of the heart muscle itself, called cardiomyopathy.
* heart defects present at birth – congenital heart defects.
* infection of the heart valves and/or heart muscle itself – endocarditis and/or myocarditis

The symptoms of heart failure may vary for different people and they can depend on the degree to which the rest of the body is involved. Some of the common symptoms are caused by excess fluid in the body and include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Shortness of breath (very common symptom)
  • Sudden shortness of breath at night when lying flat
  • Cough and wheezing
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles and sometimes the abdomen
  • Weight gain
  • Lack of appetite, nausea
  • Irregular pulse

Heart failure is chronic, it doesn’t go away and there are times when the symptoms are worse than others and it’s important to know the signs and symptoms. Studies have shown that the prognosis and risk of serious complications improves when the patient and family are able to recognize the signs of CHF episodes or exacerbations:

An American study reported in 2008 found that patients hospitalised with acute heart failure had experienced considerable delays in seeking medical care (with an average delay time of 13.3 hours).3 Male sex, multiple presenting symptoms, absence of a history of heart failure, and seeking medical care between midnight and 6 a.m. were associated with prolonged prehospital delay.

“This is why it is so important to instruct patients and their families how to recognise the symptoms of acute heart failure,” said Professor Follath, “to seek medical help without loosing critical time of hours or even days before appropriate treatment can be started.”

Though many elderly patients with heart failure may have other conditions that can make their symptoms seem misleading, it is very important for patients and families to know even the subtle signs and symptoms.

As with any medical condition, consult your doctor or other health care provider if you think you or a loved one may have CHF.

-Elizabeth Thielke


There are 7 Comments about this post

  1. [...] article about Congestive Heart Failure at Seniors For [...]


    on 13 July 2009 / 3:54 AM

  2. Janet says,

    I can not find any information on if AD causes CHF to be worse or vice versa. If anyone can help me with this question, I would greatly appreciate. My mom had severe AD and was just diagnosed with CHF, which she has had heart problems her whole life, including open heart surgery and another massive heart attack last October. With this diagnosis on top of everything else cause an earlier death? What should we be prepared for?


    on 14 August 2009 / 1:54 PM

  3. Elizabeth says,

    Hi, Janet. I’m sorry to hear your mother is having a hard time.

    I don’t know of a direct correlation between Alzheimer’s Disease and CHF, but the combination of her past heart problems and the brain cell damaging AD may certainly cause her heart not to pump as efficiently as it should, perhaps causing such symptoms as swelling or shortness of breath.

    I encourage you to talk to her doctor or other health care provider about what to expect in her particular situation.


    on 14 August 2009 / 2:21 PM

  4. Kallie Jurgens says,

    I have CHF with cardiomyopathy but still feel pretty good; my blood pressure’s not too high. Could I still walk if I don’t get carried away and try to go for more miles than I can take? Thanks


    on 27 August 2009 / 8:52 AM

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  6. Beth Martini says,

    Could sudden onset of raspy voice with no sign of cold or congestion be sign of CHF in an elderly woman?


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