How long do people live with congestive heart failure?

A fellow caregiver asked...

How long do people live with congestive heart failure?

Expert Answer

People with mild to moderate congestive heart failure (CHF) could potentially live many years; it needn't be a death sentence. Congestive heart FAILURE is really a misnomer -- think of it as congestive heart inefficiency!

With mild to moderate CHF, the heart is not as powerful as it once was. As less blood is pumped out of the heart with each beat, the blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up. This back-up causes fluid congestion in the tissues. When that congestion occurs in the lungs, the person experiences shortness of breath. People with mild or moderate congestive heart failure who are well controlled with cardiac medications can live relatively active lives. Medications, which increase the pumping power of the heart muscles, give such folks some relief from the associated fatigue, difficulty breathing, and swelling in the extremities. People with CHF should be under the care of a doctor and should be consistent with their medications.

The heart reaches the "failure" point with a diagnosis of severe CHF, when medications and treatments are unable to help compensate for poor function in the heart. Such patients are typically hospitalized and have a poor prognosis.