Conditions InDepth: Heart Failure
by Michelle Badash, MS and Michael Jubinville, MPH
Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. When the heart fails to keep up with this demand, fluid can accumulate behind the failing heart chambers. In order to understand the types of heart failure, you should first understand how the heart, the center of the circulatory systems, works.
The heart has a right and left side, and each side has two chambers. The four chambers of the heart have specific functions:
The right atrium receives blood from the body and empties it into the right ventricle. The right ventricle pumps the blood out to the lungs where carbon dioxide is exchanged for oxygen. The left atrium receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs, then empties it into the left ventricle. The left ventricle is the strongest muscle/chamber in the heart and is responsible for pumping the blood back out to the body.
Heart failure is caused by damage to, or weakening of the heart muscle which makes it difficult for the heart to pump properly. The damage may be caused by long-term stress on the heart caused by conditions like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart defects, or sudden damage caused by conditons like heart attack or infections. At first the heart and body try to compensate by:
However, these changes only provide temporary relief and do not repair the heart failure. The heart continues to weaken and eventually the changes in the heart and body are not able to compensate for the changes.
Types of Heart Failure
The type of heart failure may be based on the side of the heart affected and current symptoms. Some examples include:
About heart failure. American Heart Association website. Available at:
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Updated May 8, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2017.
Causes of heart failure. Heart Failure website. Available at:
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Accessed September 15, 2017.
Explore heart failure. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf. Updated June 22, 2015. Accessed September 15, 2017.
Felker CM, Thompson RE, Hare JM, et al. Underlying causes and long-term survival in patients with initially unexplained cardiomyopathy. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(15):1077-1084.
He J, Ogden LG, Bazzano LA, Vupputuri S, Loria C, Whelton PK. Risk factors for congestive heart failure in US men and women: NHANES I epidemiologic follow-up study. Arch Intern Med. 2001;161(7):996-1002.
Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated September 1, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2017.
What is heart failure? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf/causes. Updated June 22, 2015. Accessed September 15, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 9/17/2014
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