Elizabeth Taylor dies of congestive heart failure. What is it?

Actress Elizabeth Taylor died early Wednesday of congestive heart failure at age 79. Here is some information about the condition.

Congestive heart failure, commonly abbreviated CHF, occurs when the heart keeps contracting but cannot efficiently pump oxygenated blood throughout the body, starving the muscles of oxygen and nutrients. Typically, the heart has an ejection fraction of about 65%: That means, each time it contracts, about 65% of the blood in the ventricles is forced out into the circulatory system. For a patient with CHF, the ejection fraction will be substantially lower, often 35% or lower, meaning the heart must work much harder to keep the body supplied with blood.

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Symptoms include shortness of breath after any type of activity, including walking up a flight of steps; swelling of feet and ankles (edema); weight gain; rapid or irregular pulse; difficulty sleeping; fatigue, weakness or faintness; loss of appetite or indigestion. Fluids may build up around internal organs, including the heart, impairing their ability to function.


CHF has a variety of causes. Among them are high blood pressure; narrowed arteries that bring blood to the heart muscle; a past heart attack; heart valve disease due to past rheumatic fever or other problems; or congenital heart disease.

Treatment typically includes rest and a modified diet to reduce consumption of salt. Drugs are typically prescribed to lower blood pressure, to relax arteries to allow blood to flow more freely, and to eliminate excessive fluids.

More information about CHF is available here and here.