Congestive heart failure is a progressive disease that gets worse over time, especially if it remains untreated. It is often caused by other conditions that weaken the heart, such as:
- heart attack
- coronary heart disease
- congenital heart disease
- faulty heart valves
- high blood pressure
- inflammation or damage to the heart muscle
There are four stages of congestive heart failure (CHF), each with a different outlook. Many other disorders and lifestyle choices contribute to the development of CHF.
In some cases, life expectancy and outlook can be positively affected by lifestyle changes, medications, and surgery.
A 2016 study estimated that about half of people who develop heart failure live beyond 5 years after being diagnosed.
However, there is no simple answer for life expectancy rates, as the average life expectancy for each stage of CHF varies greatly. Personal lifestyle choices may also play a factor, as well as whether a person has other medical problems.
CHF is not curable, but early detection and treatment may help improve a person’s life expectancy. Following a treatment plan that includes lifestyle changes may help improve their quality of life.
When a person has CHF, their heart has difficulty pumping blood to the other organs in the body. This problem occurs because the walls of the ventricles, which typically pump the blood through the body, become too thin and weak, causing the blood stay in the ventricle, rather than pushing it out.
Blood remaining in the heart can cause fluid retention because the heart is not pumping enough blood through the body to push out excess fluids.
CHF has four stages based on the severity of symptoms. Understanding each stage may help shed light on a person’s life expectancy rates, and explain why they can vary so much.
- Stage 1 or pre-CHF: People with pre-CHF may have disorders that affect the heart, or doctors may have noticed a weakness in their heart that has not yet caused any symptoms.
- Stage 2: People with stage 2 CHF may have minor symptoms but are still otherwise healthy. People with stage 2 CHF often have existing heart complications but lack definitive symptoms of heart failure. Doctors may recommend that these people reduce their workload and make lifestyle changes.
- Stage 3: People with stage 3 CHF may experience symptoms regularly and may not be able to do their regular tasks, especially if they have other health conditions.
- Stage 4 or late-stage CHF: A person with stage 4 CHF may have severe or debilitating symptoms throughout the day, even while at rest. Late-stage CHF often requires extensive medical and surgical treatment to manage.
The symptoms of CHF vary greatly depending on the stage, and whether a person has any other medical conditions. However, common symptoms include:
swelling in the legs and feet caused by a buildup of excess fluid
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
Other conditions that affect the heart can also cause CHF, and the person will probably also be dealing with the symptoms that these additional conditions create.
Early diagnosis of CHF may help people manage their symptoms and make preventative lifestyle changes, which may give them a better long-term outlook.
Medical treatment for CHF involves reducing the amount of fluid in the body to ease some of the strain on the heart and improving the heart’s ability to pump blood.
Doctors may prescribe angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) as a way to help the heart pump blood more effectively.
In some cases, doctors may also prescribe beta-blockers to support these efforts and control the heart rate.
Doctors also commonly prescribe diuretics for people with CHF, as they may help the body eliminate excess liquid. Common diuretics include hydrochlorothiazide, bumetanide, and furosemide.
In the later stages of heart failure, doctors may recommend surgery to insert a left ventricular assisted device (LVAD) into the heart. An LVAD is a pump that helps the heart muscle contract, and it is often a permanent solution. A full heart transplant may also be an option if the person is considered suitable for the operation.
No matter what stage of CHF a person is at, or what medical treatment they follow, doctors will likely recommend making lifestyle changes to minimize the impact of CHF. These changes may help slow the condition and increase a person’s quality of life.
Diet and exercise
Eating a healthful, varied diet and getting regular exercise is recommended for everyone, but is especially important for people with CHF.
Doctors often recommend that people with CHF eliminate excess salt (sodium) from their diet, as it causes the body to retain fluids. Doctors may also recommend cutting out alcohol.
Aerobic exercise is any activity that elevates the heart rate and breathing rate. Activities include swimming, bicycling, or jogging.
Regular aerobic exercise may improve heart health, leading to a better quality of life and perhaps even increasing life expectancy in people with CHF. Doctors can help individuals make a personalized exercise routine that works for them.
People with CHF tend to retain fluid in the body, so doctors often recommend restricting their fluid intake to the minimum each day.
Consuming too much liquid may cancel out the effects of diuretic medicines. While it is essential to stay hydrated, a doctor will be able to recommend just how much fluid a person can safely consume a day.
For someone with CHF, watching their weight is often less about fat accumulation than it is about fluid retention.
Doctors will often ask people to monitor their weight each day to check for any sudden or fast weight gain, which may be linked to fluid retention.
Monitoring a person’s weight every day can help a doctor prescribe the correct levels of diuretics to help the body release fluid.
Each person with CHF will have a different experience with the condition, and life expectancy for the disease will vary significantly between individuals.
Life expectancy depends on what stage CHF has reached, as well as what other complications or health problems the person has. People who have received an early diagnosis may have a better outlook than those who did not receive a diagnosis until the later stages.
Many people find that positive lifestyle changes can significantly improve the symptoms of CHF and their well-being. Medication helps many people with CHF, and doctors will sometimes recommend surgery.
Working directly with a doctor or medical team is crucial to make an individualized treatment plan and give someone the best possible outlook.