Elizabeth Taylor Dies of Congestive Heart Failure

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Medical Author: Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Medical Editor: Jerry Balentine, DO, FACEP

Though she lived a very public life growing up on the silver screen, Elizabeth Taylor was given the dignity of passing away quietly surrounded by family. Unfortunately, she had to spend part of the last weeks of her life in a hospital being treated for congestive heart failure (CHF), a disease that causes fluid to build up and cause congestion in the organs of the body, especially in the lungs.

Ms. Taylor was one of the millions of Americans with CHF who suffer with the symptoms of shortness of breath on exertion, difficulty lying flat, and swollen legs. When the heart muscle weakens and can't pump hard enough to push blood through the body, a couple of things happen. First, not enough oxygen gets delivered to the body, so muscles that don't get enough oxygen tire more quickly and it's harder to walk or climb stairs. Brain cells need oxygen to function and perhaps the patient may become less sharp. Every organ in the body needs adequate oxygen supply and blood circulation, and when the heart fails to meet those needs, the body gradually shuts down. Fluid starts backing up because the pump (the heart) can't keep it moving. It's no different than a failed oil pump in a car or a sump pump in a basement. But in the body, the fluid backs up into the lungs, causing shortness of breath, or the fluid backs up into the peripheral tissues, causing edema, where feet, ankles, and legs can swell.