Facts About Heart Failure
From mild to severe, heart failure can appear in different forms. Learn more about the types and causes.
Heart failure doesn't necessarily mean that your heart suddenly "fails." Rather, it is most often a chronic condition. It can develop gradually, over many years, as the heart becomes less and less efficient. Heart failure can range from mild, hardly affecting your life, to severe, making even simple activities hard to do.
In heart failure, the heart muscle is either stiff or weak and doesn't pump properly.
When the heart is stiff, it can't relax enough to re-fill. Less blood is available to pump to the body. When the muscle is weak, it can't pump well enough to circulate enough blood to meet the body's needs.
Types of heart failure
Systolic heart failure occurs when the heart can't contract or pump effectively. Systole is the term for contraction of the heart. In this type of heart failure, the heart can't contract or pump with enough force to push a sufficient amount of blood through the body. Diastolic heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is stiff and has trouble relaxing. Diastole refers to the time when the heart relaxes between pumps. If the ventricle can't relax, it can't properly fill with blood, so less blood is pumped to the body.
Heart failure can affect the left, right or both sides of the heart.
Left-sided heart failure. The left atrium of the heart receives blood from the lungs. The left ventricle pumps it out to the body. Most heart failure starts on the left side. If the left side of the heart can't pump well, blood coming in from the lungs may back up and cause fluid buildup in the lungs. This is called congestive heart failure, pulmonary congestion or pulmonary edema. Right-sided heart failure. The right side of the heart receives used blood from the body and sends it to the lungs for oxygen.It typically follows from the damage caused by left-sided heart failure. When the right side can't pump well, blood backs up in the body's veins, causing swelling in the legs and ankles.
It's important for your doctor to know the type of heart failure you have, because treatments may be different for each.
What causes heart failure? Heart failure can come from one or a combination of underlying conditions that cause heart damage. Often, heart failure develops after years of coronary artery disease, uncontrolled high blood pressure or other conditions that over-work the heart. These include chronic lung disease, heart valve or other structural heart problems, or birth defects.
In other cases, a disease of the heart muscle itself, called cardiomyopathy, causes problems. It can develop from overuse of alcohol or drugs, a virus, genetic disorders, tissue or blood disorders, or for unknown reasons.
Sometimes, a heart attack can leave a large part of the heart muscle dead, resulting in sudden heart failure.
What can be done? Although there's not a cure for most types of heart failure, it can often be well managed with treatment and lifestyle changes.