Congestive heart failure — or simply heart failure — is a serious heart condition affecting 4.9 million Americans, with roughly 550,000 new cases each year, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).* It is usually a chronic condition brought on by weakness in the functioning heart, not a loss of functioning altogether. The term "failure," in this case, denotes the failure of the heart's muscular left ventricle to pump enough blood out of the heart to meet the demands of the body, causing a backup, or "congestion," of blood in the veins and tissues.
Over time, this condition worsens. The heart beats more rapidly to compensate for its weakness, putting itself under great strain. Often the heart enlarges or "remodels" itself, stretching its walls thin and undermining itself further. Without treatment, the backup of blood and fluids in the body eventually wreaks havoc on other bodily systems and organs, resulting in death. However, by working with doctors and choosing the right treatments, patients with heart failure can improve their rate of survival and lead full lives in spite of the condition.
*American Heart Association. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics — 2003 Update. Dallas, Tex.: American Heart Association; 2002.