Topic updated: July 2012

Congestive Heart Failure

What Is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. In some cases, the heart can't 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.

The term "heart failure" doesn't mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop working. However, heart failure is a serious condition that requires medical care.

Overview

Heart failure develops over time as the heart's pumping action grows weaker. The condition can affect the right side of the heart only, or it can affect both sides of the heart. Most cases involve both sides of the heart.

Right-side heart failure occurs if the heart can't pump enough blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen. Left-side heart failure occurs if the heart can't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.

Right-side heart failure may cause fluid to build up in the feet, ankles, legs, liver, abdomen, and the veins in the neck. Right-side and left-side heart failure also may cause shortness of breath and fatigue (tiredness).

The leading causes of heart failure are diseases that damage the heart. Examples include coronary heart disease (CHD), high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Outlook

Heart failure is a very common condition. About 5.8 million people in the United States have heart failure.

Both children and adults can have the condition, although the symptoms and treatments differ. This article focuses on heart failure in adults.

Currently, heart failure has no cure. However, treatments—such as medicines and lifestyle changes—can help people who have the condition live longer and more active lives. Researchers continue to study new ways to treat heart failure and its complications.

Other Names for Heart Failure

  • Congestive heart failure.
  • Left-side heart failure. This is when the heart can't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the body.
  • Right-side heart failure. This is when the heart can't fill with enough blood.
  • Cor pulmonale. This term refers to right-side heart failure caused by high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries and right ventricle (lower right heart chamber).

Read the rest of this article, and related materials from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

abstract illustration of human heart

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