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What is heart failure?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

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.

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.

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)

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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.