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What is heart failure?

Essentially what happens in heart failure is that the heart is just not able to pump enough blood to meet the demands of the body. Heart failure can be related to a variety of conditions, including the following:

  • a prior heart attack
  • heart arrhythmias
  • problems with heart valves

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Heart failure, often called congestive heart failure because of fluid build up in the lungs, liver, gastrointestinal tract, the arms and legs, is a serious condition that occurs when the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. It does not mean that the heart has stopped. The majority of heart failure cases are in the chronic heart failures.

The only cure for heart failure is a heart transplant. However, heart failure can be managed with medications or medical procedures.

Dr. Boris Arbit, MD
Internist

Heart failure is an inability to provide adequate cardiac output to the body at rest, or with exertion. The cardiac filling pressures become elevated, ultimately leading to heart failure and issues for the heart muscle.

Heart failure is a syndrome. It's not a specific disease. It's rather a combination of several syndromes, which makes it a little more challenging at times to both diagnose and care for. Heart failure could be defined clinically, meaning how does the person with heart failure perceive it, and how does the doctor perceive it?

For the person with heart failure, it could mean a shortness of breath. It could mean fatigue, difficulty with exertion. So specifically, a person may be doing fine with rest or watching TV, but walking up to the store or walking to the parking lot may precipitate significant shortness of breath. It can also have significant signs that the doctor or the person may observe. There could be swelling of the extremities or certain types of heart or lung sounds that are evident on exam.

Dr. Ketan N. Desai, DO
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure, is the term given to describe the symptoms and/or signs that occur as a result of inefficient functioning of the heart. Heart failure can be categorized into two main types: systolic heart failure where the heart muscle has become weakened and is not pumping a normal volume, or diastolic heart failure where the heart is unable to relax effectively and as a result cannot fill with enough volume to pump it forward.

Signs and symptoms often manifest as swelling and shortness of breath. It should also be noted that there are multiple different causes within each of these main categories of heart failure.

Heart failure is a serious condition in which the heart loses its ability to keep up with the amount of blood needed by the body. Heart failure can occur due to conditions such as high blood pressure, diseased coronary arteries, untreated heart rhythm problems, infections, toxins or heart malformations, which leaves the heart too weak to pump the amount of blood the body needs. Heart failure can also occur when the heart muscle is damaged, such as from a heart attack.

Heart failure is a condition where the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the body. The heart is a muscle that contains four chambers. Blood flows into the heart in the upper champers, atria, when the heart is relaxed (diastole). The blood flows into the lower chambers, or ventricles, where it is pumped out to the body as the heart muscle contracts (systole). The blood in the right side of the heart travels to the lungs where it picks up oxygen and then returns to the left side of the heart where it is pumped to the body. There are two types of heart failure. During systolic heart failure the left ventricle does not pump properly. Blood backs up in the veins and lungs. During diastolic heart failure, the left ventricle does not relax preventing the chamber from filling with blood properly. The heart pumps the reduced blood supply to the body at a normal rate.

There are two kinds of heart failure. In the first kind, the heart muscle has weakened and cannot pump enough blood out with each beat. This is called "systolic heart failure." In the second kind, the heart pumps normally but the heart muscle has become stiff. Your heart has lost its ability to relax and does not completely fill with blood. This is called "diastolic heart failure."

If you have heart failure, your heart may not pump enough blood to the lungs and other parts of the body during activity. This causes a shortage of oxygen and nutrients in the blood that may make you feel weak and tired. When the heart is not pumping well, it can cause a backup of blood. This backup of blood causes fluid to leak from the blood vessels into the tissues. This is called "congestion." In the lungs, congestion may lead to difficulty breathing. In the ankles and legs, the congestion or backup of fluid causes swelling. In the belly, congestion may cause fullness or loss of appetite.

Dr. Sean P. Pinney, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The heart is a muscular organ at the core of the circulatory system. Its four chambers—two upper and two lower—cycle blood and oxygen throughout your body.

When the heart's chambers cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs, the stage is set for heart failure, also called congestive heart failure. Heart failure is a complicated syndrome, and it involves pretty much every organ in the body.

In heart failure, the heart is less able to pump blood. Heart failure may be caused by a number of problems, such as heart attack, coronary artery disease and high blood pressure. In congestive heart failure, another heart condition, fluid builds up inside body tissues such as the lungs. Then breathing becomes difficult. Warning signs can differ among people but they include:

  • shortness of breath
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • swelling of the feet and ankles (from fluid retention)
Joan Haizlip, MSN
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Heart failure happens when your heart suddenly stops being able to pump blood effectively. The heart is basically a pump. If the pump fails, or weakens, blood cannot be pumped to the rest of the body and signs and symptoms of heart failure occur:

  • shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • unable to lie flat (orthopnea)
  • swelling in the feet and legs (edema)
  • confusion
  • fatigue
Dr. Francis X. Downey, MD
Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Heart failure is the inability of the heart to pump well enough to provide the body—brain, kidneys, extremities—with enough blood flow.

Heart failure can have different causes, including coronary artery disease, viral illnesses and valvular heart disease.

A healthy heart pumps out enough oxygen-rich blood to feed all parts of the body. When your heart can no longer do that, you have heart failure. Blood backs up into your lungs and other parts of your body. This causes symptoms such as shortness of breath or swelling in the belly, hands, legs and feet.

Dr. Irvin H. Naylor, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Heart failure is the inability of the heart to keep up with its workload. When someone has this condition, his or her heart cannot pump enough blood to the lungs and the rest of the body. Heart failure is often a chronic condition that can be treated with medications, diet and other lifestyle changes, and in some cases, surgery.

Dr. Ali Nsair, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The heart is a muscle pump that contains four chambers that circulates blood through the lungs for oxygenation and pumps it to the rest of the body. When the heart fails, the heart is not able to meet the demands of the body resulting in insufficient blood supply to our muscles and other vital organs. There are two kinds of heart failure. Systolic heart failure is when the heart weakens and fails and is unable to pump sufficient volume of blood. Due to pump failure, blood backs up in the lungs and in our body causing shortness of breath, edema (swelling), fatigue and other complications. These symptoms can be very debilitating and also affect the function of vital organs such as the kidney and liver. Another type of heart failure is diastolic heart failure where the pump function of the heart is maintained but the heart becomes stiff and unable to accommodate the volume of blood returning to it leading to similar symptoms as we see in systolic heart failure. This diastolic heart failure is very significant as well and the inability of the stiff heart to relax and accommodate the extra volume of blood returning to is as serious as systolic (weak pump) heart failure and challenging to treat.

In heart failure, the heart muscle is too weak to pump an adequate supply of blood throughout the body. Often chronic, this condition may stem from previous heart attack(s) or advanced valve disease.

Heart failure is a condition in which your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. Usually this is because your heart muscle is too weak to "squeeze" out enough blood with each beat. But heart failure can also happen when your heart becomes too stiff and can't fill up with enough blood between each beat.

Heart failure is a serious condition—and it's also quite common. In the United States, more than 5 million people are living with heart failure.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.