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Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure is a condition that prevents the heart from pumping enough oxygenated blood to the body’s other organs. Heart failure interferes with kidney function and can cause swelling in the ankles and legs and fluid build-up in the lungs, leading to shortness-of-breath. Nearly 5.7 million Americans suffer from heart failure, and 670,000 people are diagnosed with the condition each year. Heart valve disorders, high blood pressure, a heart attack, coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease and other diseases of the heart muscle can cause congestive heart failure. Other causes include cardiac arrhythmias, chronic lung disease, drug-induced heart failure, excessive sodium intake, hemorrhage and anemia, and diabetes.


Heart failure treatments vary based on the cause of the condition, the extent of the illness, and the age and physical condition of each patient. If heart failure is caused by a valve disorder then surgery is the typical treatment. Sometimes the disease which caused the condition is treated, which resolves the heart failure. In cases where heart failure is caused by a damaged heart muscle, medical and other therapies have proven to be successful. Treatment may include:

Controlling risk factors – losing weight, restricting salt, quitting smoking, controlling blood sugar and blood pressure and limiting fluids – may be recommended for treatment of heart failure. Medications may be used to lower blood pressure, reduce fluid build-up, to maintain a healthy heart rhythm and improve heart strength and pumping ability. Cardiac pacemakers, defibrillators and other ventricular assist devices  may also be used to maintain healthy heart rhythms. Sometimes a heart transplant is recommended for treatment of advanced heart failure.


A number of tests may be performed to diagnose congestive heart failure.  

  • chest x-ray - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones and organs.
  • echocardiogram (also called echo) - a noninvasive test that uses sound waves to produce a study of the motion of the heart's chambers and valves. The echo sound waves create an image on the monitor as an ultrasound transducer is passed over the heart.
  • electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) - a test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias), and detects heart muscle damage.
  • BNP testing - B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) is a hormone released from the ventricles in response to increased wall tension (stress) that occurs with heart failure. BNP levels rise as wall stress increases. BNP levels are useful in the rapid evaluation of heart failure. The higher the BNP levels, the worse the heart failure.


Emerson Hospital offers a comprehensive array of services for patients with congestive heart failure including:

  • Coronary Care Unit where patients with serious heart problems are closely monitored and receive specialized, individual care.
  • Telemetry Unit designed for patients with heart-related problems who require monitoring, but need less intensive nursing care than is provided in the CCU.
  • The Mass General Cardiology Program at Emerson offers specialists in electrophysiology, women’s heart health, and advanced heart failure.
  • Cardiology Lab offering testing for heart disease, including electrocardiograms (EKGs), trans-esophageal echocardiography, holter monitoring, echocardiograms (ECGs), and computerized stress testing.
  • A Cardiac Rehabilitation Program designed for patients who have experienced a heart attack, coronary artery bypass grafting, angioplasty or valve replacement surgery or who suffer from angina.
  • Board-certified cardiologists with offices in Concord and Westford.
  • Pediatric cardiologist from Mass General with an office in Concord.