Heart Failure

What is Heart Failure?

In heart failure, the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. In some cases, the heart cannot fill with enough blood. In other cases, the heart can't pump blood to the rest of the body with enough force. Some people have both problems.

Heart failure develops over time as the pumping action of the heart gets weaker. It can affect either the right, the left, or both sides of the heart. Heart failure does not mean that the heart has stopped working or is about to stop working.

When heart failure affects the left side of the heart, the heart cannot pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. When heart failure affects the right side, the heart cannot pump enough blood to the lungs, where it picks up oxygen.

The Heart's Pumping Action

In normal hearts, blood vessels called veins bring oxygen-poor blood from the body to the right side of the heart. It is then pumped through the pulmonary artery to the lungs, picking up oxygen. From there, the blood returns to the left side of the heart. Then it is pumped through a large artery called the aorta that distributes blood throughout the body.

When the heart is weakened by heart failure, blood and fluid can back up into the lungs, and fluid builds up in the feet, ankles, and legs. People with heart failure often experience tiredness and shortness of breath.

Heart Failure is Serious

Heart failure is a serious and common condition. Scientists estimate that 5 million people in the U.S. have heart failure and that number is growing. It contributes to 300,000 deaths each year. Heart failure is most common in those age 65 and older and it is the number one reason older people are hospitalized.

Other Names for Heart Failure

Heart failure can also be called congestive heart failure, systolic heart failure, diastolic heart failure, left-sided heart failure, or right-sided heart failure.