Michelle Badash, MS
and Michael Jubinville, MPH
Related Media: Coping with the Challenges of Heart Failure
Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. When the heart fails to keep up with this demand, fluid can accumulate behind the failing heart chambers. In order to understand the types of heart failure, you should first understand how the heart, the center of the circulatory systems, works.
The heart has a right and left side, and each side has two chambers. The four chambers of the heart have specific functions:
The right atrium receives blood from the body and empties it into the right ventricle. The right ventricle pumps the blood out to the lungs where carbon dioxide is exchanged for oxygen. The left atrium receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs, then empties it into the left ventricle. The left ventricle is the strongest muscle/chamber in the heart and is responsible for pumping the blood back out to the body.
Heart failure is caused by damage to, or weakening of the heart muscle which makes it difficult for the heart to pump properly. The damage may be caused by long-term stress on the heart caused by conditions like
high blood pressure,
coronary artery disease, heart defects, or sudden damage caused by conditons like heart attack or infections. At first the heart and body try to compensate by:
However, these changes only provide temporary relief and do not repair the heart failure. The heart continues to weaken and eventually the changes in the heart and body are not able to compensate for the changes.
The type of heart failure may be based on the side of the heart affected and current symptoms. Some examples include:
About heart failure.
American Heart Association website. Available at:
Updated September 20, 2012. Accessed October 7, 2013.
Causes of heart failure. Heart Failure website. Available at: http://www.heartfailure.org/heart-failure/causes. Accessed October 7, 2013.
Explore heart failure.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf. Updated January 9, 2012. Accessed October 7, 2013.
Felker CM, Thompson RE, et al. Underlying causes and long-term survival in patients with initially unexplained cardiomyopathy.
N Engl J Med.
He J, Ogden LG, et al. Risk factors for congestive heart failure in US men and women: NHANES I epidemiologic follow-up study.
Arch Intern Med.
Heart failure. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 7, 2013. Accessed October 7, 2013.
What causes heart failure? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf/causes.html. Updated January 9, 2012. Accessed October 7, 2013.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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