Prognosis and Life Expectancy of Congestive Heart Failure

By:    Medically Reviewed: Tom Iarocci, MD   Published: August 11, 2014

Receiving a diagnosis of congestive heart failure is frightening, but there are many things patients can do to improve their prognosis.

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If you or a loved one has received a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, it can be a frightening time.

But before panic sets it, it is helpful to understand that heart failure is categorized into different stages that carry a range of different life expectancies. Fortunately, in many cases, congestive heart failure is manageable, and there are steps you can take in order to improve your prognosis. 

Congestive Heart Failure Causes

Several different conditions and diseases can impair the heart’s pumping action, which may lead to heart failure. “One common cause of congestive heart failure in adults is a heart attack, which causes damage to the heart,” says Monica Aggarwal, MD, a noninvasive cardiologist at the Heart Center, Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

As the heart becomes weaker, blood is not pumped throughout the body effectively. Depending on what side of the heart is affected, blood may not be pumped into the lungs efficiently or throughout the body effectively.

In children, the most common cause of congestive heart failure is a congenital heart defect. According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, other causes of congestive heart failure include the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • Severe lung disease
  • Cardiomyopathy 
  • Diabetes

What is the Life Expectancy with CHF?

Statistics can be deceiving when you try to apply them to an individual, but congestive heart failure is taken seriously in all of its stages. Prognosis varies greatly, but according to the Cleveland Clinic, the annual mortality rate for people with congestive heart failure is between 5 and 20 percent.

“Patients should understand, the course of their disease has many variables. There are general statistics, but so many factors determine a patient’s life expectancy, and it is difficult to determine a definitive prognosis,” says Aggarwal.

People with congestive heart failure also need to remember statistics don’t necessarily determine your individual prognosis. “Many patients live long and productive lives with controlled and stable congestive heart failure,” says Marc Leavey, an internist who has treated many patients with congestive heart failure. “Those in the lower stages of failure, if properly managed, can hope to have a near normal life expectancy.”

What Factors Affect Prognosis?

Similar to other medical conditions, many factors play a role in a person’s prognosis. For instance, if the coronary artery disease that caused a person’s heart failure in the first place goes untreated, the prognosis is not as good as with medical management.

The patient’s response to medication and other diseases or processes occurring along with the congestive heart failure can also affect a person’s life expectantly.

“Some diseases, such as connective tissue diseases, may not cause congestive heart failure, but present a co-morbidity, that can affect prognosis,” says Leavey. “Also, acquired habits, such as smoking and heavy alcohol or substance abuse, put an additional workload on the heart and can worsen the prognosis.”  

Improving Quality of Life with Congestive Heart Failure

Receiving a diagnosis of congestive heart failure does not mean your life has to stop; but it does mean changes need to be made.

Modifications to diet and in some cases activity may be needed, and heart medications need to be taken as directed, but many people with congestive heart failure can still live a full life.

“Someone with congestive heart failure needs to pay attention to improving their general health, which can in turn improve quality their life,” says Leavey. For example, weight should be maintained at optimal levels, and a heart healthy diet should be followed.

Staying as active as your condition allows may also improve quality of life. Following your doctor’s advice is also important.

Next Steps

For Patients

  • Learn as much as you can about congestive heart failure. Become educated to understand your treatment options and to lessen the fear with this diagnosis.
  • Commit to lifestyle changes in order to improve your overall health. Quit smoking and eating healthy, avoiding too much salt, refined sugar and bad fats. Work with your doctor to get your lab results where they should be.
  • Pay attention to subtle changes in your health and keep all your visits to help ensure regular medical care and adequate monitoring. Know your weight and step on the scale often. Tell your doctor about any changes, including if you have swelling in your feet or legs, trouble breathing or if you are coughing or having more difficulty catching your breath.

For Family Caregivers

As a caregiver to someone with congestive heart failure there are things you do to provide care and support.

  • Encourage your loved one to keep a log of symptoms, weight changes, which may indicate fluid retention, and medication side effects. Recording all the above daily will help you and your loved one recognize any changes quickly and bring up concerns to the doctor.
  • Get moving together. If the doctor gives the go ahead, develop an exercise routine together. Exercise can help both physically and mentally. Having a workout buddy may help your loved one stick with the program, plus you will get in shape too.
  • “In some instances, congestive heart failure may progress to more serious levels. As a caregiver, be there for the comfort and love that only you can give,” says Leavey.    
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