Elizabeth Taylor died of congestive heart failure (CHF) at the age of 79 on March 23, 2011. Her death raises awareness of this serious condition that affects an estimated five million Americans.

Congestive heart failure means that the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. CHF may develop over a long period of time, sometimes over years, or almost immediately.

“There are many different reasons that CHF occurs,” says Dr. Ali Tabrizchi, an interventional cardiologist at the Heart Center at Sinai in Baltimore. “Genetics, which are passed down through families, as well lifestyle choices, can be to blame.”heart stethoscope

Among the possible causes:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Problems with the heart’s valves
  • Thyroid conditions
  • A heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • An infection of the heart muscle
  • Vitamin deficiencies

People of all ages and of both sexes can have congestive heart failure. Among some people who died from it are actress/dancer Ginger Rogers, makeup founder Max Factor Jr., jazz musician Lionel Hampton, NBA center Kevin Duckworth, and actor Andy Hallett who had a recurring role in the TV series “Angel.”

Chest pain is only one possible symptom of a heart problem. Other symptoms can be:

  • Constantly tired or weak
  • Dizzy spells
  • Frequent urination during the night
  • Problems breathing when lying down
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing when you exert yourself
  • Swollen ankles or feet
  • Waking at night coughing or short of breath

Adds Dr. Tabrizchi, “Through intensive treatment, outpatient management and education, many patients improve their health quality of life.”

Based on examinations and tests, your physician will develop a treatment plan for you, which may include:

  • Increased activity as recommended
  • Dietary changes to reduce intake of sodium
  • Medication to help the heart work better
  • Rest to give the heart a break
  • Referral for heart transplantation

For more information, contact the Heart Center at Sinai or the Northwest Hospital Division of Cardiology at www.lifebridgehealth.org, or call 410.601.WELL.