Heart Failure Overview


Your heart is a muscular organ that pumps blood containing the oxygen and nutrients your body needs.

The pumping sections of the heart are: the right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, and left ventricle.

In your heart, oxygen-poor blood flows from your body through large veins into your right atrium.

Next, your blood moves into your right ventricle, which contracts,

sending blood out of the heart to pick up oxygen from your lungs.

Oxygen-rich blood moves out of your lungs into your left atrium, then moves into your left ventricle.

Finally, your left ventricle contracts, sending oxygen-rich blood out of your heart to your body.

If you have heart failure, your heart has lost the ability to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.

You may have weak or damaged ventricular walls that are not able to push enough blood out of your heart.

You may also have stiff and thickened ventricular walls that do not allow your heart to fill with enough blood.

If you have left-sided heart failure,

your left ventricle does not deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to your body, making you feel tired and out of breath.

Your failing left ventricle also increases the blood pressure in the blood vessels between your lungs and left ventricle.

This increased pressure forces fluid out of your blood and into your lung tissues, which makes it difficult for you to breathe.

If you have right-sided heart failure,

your right ventricle is unable to contract with enough force to push blood to your lungs.

The result is a buildup of blood in your veins,

which causes a buildup of fluid, called edema, throughout the tissues in your body.

Over time, heart failure on either side of your heart results in weakened,enlarged ventricles that deliver less blood to your body.

To make up for the decreased amount of blood,

your nervous system releases stress hormones that increase the speed and force of your heartbeat.

Unfortunately, the continued release of these stress hormones makes your heart failure worse

because they damage the muscle cells in your ventricles.

The most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease.

Other causes that damage your heart and lead to heart failure include: high blood pressure, diabetes,

diseased, infected, or damaged heart valves, diseased, infected, or damaged heart muscle, irregular heartbeats, called arrhythmias,

heart defects, poisons or substance abuse, lung diseases, and breathing problems during sleep, called sleep apnea.

Treatment for heart failure includes medications, lifestyle changes, or, in extreme heart failure, heartbeat-assisting devices or surgery.

Diuretic medications reduce the swelling in your body by increasing the amount of urine produced by your kidneys.

ACE inhibitors are medications that allow your blood vessels to expand.

This helps decrease your blood pressure and prevents further damage to your heart by making it easier for your heart to pump blood.

Beta-blockers are medications that block the effects of stress hormones on your heart.

Although beta-blockers slow down your heartbeat,

they are mainly used to protect your heart muscle from the long-term damage caused by stress hormones.

You may need to make some lifestyle changes, including: exercising on a regular basis,

maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, limiting salt and alcohol, and eating a heart-healthy diet.

Surgeries for advanced heart failure include:

coronary artery bypass surgery to improve blood flow to your heart muscle,

heart valve reconstruction surgery to improve blood flow through your heart

and left ventricle reconstruction surgery to remove damaged heart muscle.

Surgeries for extreme heart failure include:

insertion of a device to help your heart pump blood, and heart transplant.