Heart failure is characterized by the heart’s inability to pump an adequate supply of blood to the body. Without sufficient blood flow, all major body functions are disrupted. Heart failure is a condition or a collection of symptoms that weaken your heart.
In some people with heart failure, the heart has difficulty pumping enough blood to support other organs in the body. Other people may have a hardening and stiffening of the heart muscle itself, which blocks or reduces blood flow to the heart.
Heart failure can affect the right or left side of your heart, or both at the same time. It can be either an acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing) condition.
In acute heart failure, the symptoms appear suddenly but go away fairly quickly. This condition often occurs after a heart attack. It may also be a result of a problem with the heart valves that control the flow of blood in the heart.
In chronic heart failure, however, symptoms are continuous and don’t improve over time. The vast majority of heart failure cases are chronic.
About 5.7 million Americans have heart failure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of these people are men. However, women are more likely to die from heart failure when the condition goes untreated.
Heart failure is a serious medical condition that requires treatment. Early treatment increases your chances of long-term recovery with fewer complications. Call your doctor right away if you’re having any symptoms of heart failure.
The symptoms of heart failure may include:
Heart failure is most often related to another disease or illness. The most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease (CAD), a disorder that causes narrowing of the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. Other conditions that may increase your risk for developing heart failure include:
cardiomyopathy, a disorder of the heart muscle that causes the heart to become weak
a congenital heart defect
a heart attack
heart valve disease
certain types of arrhythmias, or irregular heart rhythms
high blood pressure
emphysema, a disease of the lung
an overactive or underactive thyroid
severe forms of anemia
certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy
drug or alcohol misuse
Heart failure can occur in either the left or right side of your heart. It’s also possible for both sides of your heart to fail at the same time.
Heart failure is also classified as either diastolic or systolic.
Left-sided heart failure
Left-sided heart failure is the most common type of heart failure.
The left heart ventricle is located in the bottom left side of your heart. This area pumps oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body.
Left-sided heart failure occurs when the left ventricle doesn’t pump efficiently. This prevents your body from getting enough oxygen-rich blood. The blood backs up into your lungs instead, which causes shortness of breath and a buildup of fluid.
Right-sided heart failure
The right heart ventricle is responsible for pumping blood to your lungs to collect oxygen. Right-sided heart failure occurs when the right side of your heart can’t perform its job effectively. It’s usually triggered by left-sided heart failure. The accumulation of blood in the lungs caused by left-sided heart failure makes the right ventricle work harder. This can stress the right side of the heart and cause it to fail.
Right-sided heart failure can also occur as a result of other conditions, such as lung disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, right-sided heart failure is marked by swelling of the lower extremities. This swelling is caused by fluid backup in the legs, feet, and abdomen.
Diastolic heart failure occurs when the heart muscle becomes stiffer than normal. The stiffness, which is usually due to heart disease, means that your heart doesn’t fill with blood easily. This is known as diastolic dysfunction. It leads to a lack of blood flow to the rest of the organs in your body.
Diastolic heart failure is more common in women than in men.
Systolic heart failure occurs when the heart muscle loses its ability to contract. The contractions of the heart are necessary to pump oxygen-rich blood out to the body. This problem is known as systolic dysfunction, and it usually develops when your heart is weak and enlarged.
Systolic heart failure is more common in men than in women.
Both diastolic and systolic heart failure can occur on the left or right sides of the heart. You may have either condition on both sides of the heart.
Heart failure can happen to anyone. However, certain factors may increase your risk of developing this condition.
Blacks are at the highest risk of having heart failure compared to other races. Men have a higher incidence than women.
People with diseases that damage the heart are also at an increased risk. These diseases include:
Certain behaviors can also increase your risk of developing heart failure, including:
eating foods high in fat or cholesterol
living a sedentary lifestyle
How is heart failure treated?
Treating heart failure depends on the severity of your condition. Early treatment can improve symptoms fairly quickly, but you should still get regular testing every three to six months. The main goal of treatment is to increase your lifespan.
Early stages of heart failure may be treated with medications to help relieve your symptoms and prevent your condition from getting worse. Certain medications are prescribed to:
improve your heart’s ability to pump blood
reduce blood clots
reduce your heart rate, when necessary
remove excess sodium and replenish potassium levels
reduce cholesterol levels