Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a chronic heart conditionin whichthe heart pumps ineffectively andfluidbuilds upthroughout the body.CHF might be referred to as"heart failure, but that doesnt mean the heart stops; it just means that the heart is underperforming. CHF is a specific type of heart failure that includesseverefluid retention(also known as edema). But why exactly does the body retain fluid? And what does that mean for asenior with CHF?

Closer Look at CHF

To understand why fluid retention happens in CHF and how it affects the body, we first need todive into a healthy heart compared to one affected by CHF.

Within the heart, there arefour (4)chambers:two (2)upper chambers (atria) andtwo (2)lower chambers (ventricles). Thelower chambers pump blood throughout the body, and the upper chambers collect bloodas it returns to the heart.During efficient pumping, the chambers work in tandem and pump enough oxygenand nutrients to the rest of the body. During heart failure, however, it is unable to meet the body's needs.

To meet the demandfor oxygenated blood, the chambers in the heart might stretch to increase their blood capacityorbecome stiffer.But ultimatelythese efforts causeheart musclestoweaken and become unable to pump efficiently.

As efficiency falls, the kidneysreceive less blood.They sense the drop in blood supply andfilter lessfluid(primarily water) out of blood circulationto help increase circulatory volume.The extrafluidin circulation can leak into tissue and organs throughout the body in the arms, legs, lungs, and other organs. This could initially result in mild swelling. But over time, the fluid buildup becomes serious enough to require medical attentionand is referred to as"congestion."Congestive heart failure refers to this stage of heart failure.

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Effects of Fluid Retention

As fluid settles in different areas of the body, seniors mayexperience a range ofsymptoms.

  • Thefluids can settle in the lungs or chest cavity, resulting in shortness of breathor cough.
  • Iffluids settle in the extremities, individuals may experience swelling andweight gain due tofluidretention.
  • Seniors may also experience bloating in their stomachsas fluid settles in the abdomen, reducing their appetite or causing nausea.

If a senior notices sudden swelling or changes in symptoms, they should seek medical attention immediately. The symptoms of CHF and fluid buildup as a result of the condition are gradual, so any sudden change is a sign that something else could be going on.

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Managing Fluid Levels

Because the body retains fluid because of CHF, a senior must manage their fluid levels through a combination of lifestyle changes and prescription medications. Heres a look at some of the ways seniors can manage their fluid levels.

  • Reduce sodium:Sodium, or salt, can cause the body to retain more fluid. So, seniors with CHF shouldreducesalt in their diet. Look for food items labeled no sodium or low sodium, and swap out salt as a seasoning with herbs and spices.
  • Monitor water intake:Drinking too muchfluidintake can put more strain on the heart.Fluid we ingest is absorbed into the bloodstream within the intestines. Because the kidneysdo not filter out enough fluid, the heart has to pump it through the body, which can exacerbate CHF. In general, seniors with CHF should only drink about 2 liters offluidper day. And dont forget to include foods with high water content when considering fluid intake.
  • Weigh regularly:Seniors with CHF may need to weight themselves regularly tomeasure the amount of fluid building up in the body. They may have a dry weight, which is a baseline weight when the body is not retaining fluid. Trying to stay as close to this dry weight as possible can help themmanage fluid levels.
  • Exercise:While it may seem counterintuitive for a senior with CHF to be active, these seniors should strive to stay moving.Mild exercisecan help reduce swelling in the legs and feet by promoting circulation.Then, some of the retained fluid is pushed back up toward the center of the body and can beexcreted in urine.
  • Takemedicationsas prescribed:A doctor may recommend that a senior with CHF take a diuretic, or a water pill. This type of medication helps the body get rid of excess fluid.A doctor may also prescribe other medications to help manage CHF, like ACE inhibitors, ARBs, or beta blockers.
  • Keep limbs elevated:Gravity can naturally cause fluid to buildup in thelowerextremities. You can combat this force through elevation. Seniors can position themselves so their affected extremities are elevated above the level of the heart to help manage fluid retention.
  • Wear compression stockings:If a senior has fluid retention in their feet and legs, compression socks can help.Compression stockings are socks that fit tightly around the food, ankle, and lower leg. These socks put pressure on the area, which helps the blood vesselswork more efficiently and reduces the leakage of fluid from the small capillaries to the surrounding tissue.

While some seniors with CHF are able to manage their condition on their own, some may need additional assistance. A professional caregiver can help a senior with CHF manage their condition at home. At Caring, we specifically train our caregiverson how to help seniors with CHF manage fluid retention along with their other symptoms. Reach out to aCaring location near youto learn more about how we can help.

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