Heart Failure

  • Medical Author:
    Erica Oberg, ND, MPH

    Dr. Erica Oberg, ND, MPH, received a BA in anthropology from the University of Colorado, her doctorate of naturopathic medicine (ND) from Bastyr University, and a masters of public health (MPH) in health services research from the University of Washington. She completed her residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in ambulatory primary care and fellowship training at the Health Promotion Research Center at the University of Washington.

  • Medical Author: Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, ABIHM
    Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, ABIHM

    Dr. Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, ABIHM, is board certified in cardiovascular disease, internal medicine, nuclear medicine, and holistic medicine. Dr. Guarneri is president of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine and serves as Senior Advisor to the Atlantic Health System for the Center for Well Being and Integrative Medicine. Dr. Guarneri is founder and director of Guarneri Integrative Health, Inc. and Taylor Academy for Integrative Medicine Education and Research located at Pacific Pearl La Jolla in La Jolla, CA.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Quick GuideHeart Disease: Causes of a Heart Attack

Heart Disease: Causes of a Heart Attack

What is heart failure?

The term heart failure can be frightening, but in reality, it just means that the heart is not pumping as well as it could be. When the heart muscle is weak, blood cannot be pumped efficiently enough to get oxygen to all of the cells. Sometimes the heart becomes dilated and weak. Other times it may be stiff and thickened. Over time, the heart cannot keep up with its workload. When this happens, there isn't enough oxygenated blood reaching the brain and muscles, and fluid begins to backup in the lungs and other tissues. The lack of oxygen causes the main symptoms of heart failure such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and difficulty completing tasks that require exertion.

What are the different types of heart failure?

The heart has four chambers through which blood pumps. Newly oxygenated blood is pumped from the lungs to the left atrium and left ventricle and out through the aorta to circulate through the rest of the body. After the oxygen has been used, the blood returns through the veins to the right atrium and right ventricle into the lungs to be re-oxygenated.

  • Systolic heart failure (left-sided heart failure): When the heart loses strength on the left side (left ventricle) and cannot pump the blood into circulation, it is called systolic heart failure or left-sided heart failure. When this occurs, the heart becomes dilated and weak. The strength of the heart muscle can be measured with an echocardiogram that measures the ejection fraction. An ejection fraction of greater than 55% is normal. The term congestive heart failure, or CHF, refers to the accumulation of fluid in the tissues. Fluid can accumulate in the legs causing swelling (edema), into the lungs causing pulmonary edema, or into the abdomen where it is called ascites. A type of heart failure termed acute decompensated heart failure is an emergency.
  • Diastolic heart failure (right-sided heart failure): The second type of heart failure is diastolic heart failure, characterized by the heart becoming thicker and stiffer. When this happens, the left ventricle cannot fill with sufficient blood, and not enough blood is pumped into circulation, even if the pumping action is still strong. This is why diastolic heart failure is sometimes referred to as heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (PEF), or right-sided heart failure. If the signs and symptoms of heart failure are present and the ejection fractions is greater than 50%, diastolic heart failure may be considered, especially if an echocardiogram shows the heart muscle is thickening.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/22/2016

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