Heart failure - overview

CHF; Congestive heart failure; Left-sided heart failure; Right-sided heart failure - cor pulmonale; Cardiomyopathy - heart failure; HF

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is no longer able to pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body efficiently. This causes symptoms to occur throughout the body.

Heart, section through the middle

The interior of the heart is composed of valves, chambers, and associated vessels.

Heart, front view

The external structures of the heart include the ventricles, atria, arteries and veins. Arteries carry blood away from the heart while veins carry blood into the heart. The vessels colored blue indicate the transport of blood with relatively low content of oxygen and high content of carbon dioxide. The vessels colored red indicate the transport of blood with relatively high content of oxygen and low content of carbon dioxide.

Circulation of blood through the heart

The heart is a large muscular organ which constantly pushes oxygen-rich blood to the brain and extremities and transports oxygen-poor blood from the brain and extremities to the lungs to gain oxygen. Blood comes into the right atrium from the body, moves into the right ventricle and is pushed into the pulmonary arteries in the lungs. After picking up oxygen, the blood travels back to the heart through the pulmonary veins into the left atrium, to the left ventricle and out to the body's tissues through the aorta.

Foot swelling

The abnormal buildup of fluid in the body is called edema. Edema is commonly seen in the feet and ankles, because of the effect of gravity, swelling is particularly noticeable in these locations. Common causes of edema are prolonged standing, prolonged sitting, pregnancy, being overweight, and increase in age.

If you cough a lot, often feel weak, have lost your appetite, and need to urinate a lot at night, you might have symptoms of heart failure. Heart failure is a long-term condition that usually comes on slowly. However, it can develop suddenly, for instance, after a heart attack. You have heart failure when your heart does not pump blood out of your heart very well, or when your heart muscles are stiff and do not easily fill up with blood. When you have heart failure, your heart cannot pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body, especially when you exercise or move around a lot. As the heart loses the ability to pump blood, blood backs up in other parts of your body, including your lungs, liver, gastrointestinal tract, and your arms and legs. The most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease, the narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to your heart. So, how do you know if you have heart failure? Get to your doctor. You may have trouble breathing, an irregular heartbeat, swollen legs, neck veins that stick out, and sounds from fluid built up in your lungs. Your doctor will check for these and other signs of heart failure. A test called an echocardiogram is often the best test to diagnose your heart failure. Your doctor can also use this test to find out why you have heart failure, and then monitor your condition going forward every three to six months. Your doctor will talk to you about knowing your body and symptoms that mean your heart failure is getting worse. You will need to learn to watch for changes in your heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, and weight. You will also need to limit salt in your diet, stop drinking alcohol, quit smoking if you need to, exercise, lose weight if you need to, and get enough rest. Your doctor will probably ask you to take medicines to treat your heart failure. These medicines can treat your symptoms, prevent your heart failure from getting worse, and help you live longer. If you have heart failure, taking your medicines, changing your lifestyle, and treating the condition that caused heart failure can go a long way toward improving your health. But heart failure is a chronic, or long-term, illness, which means it may get worse over time. Make sure you call your doctor if you start coughing more, have sudden weight gain or swelling, or feel week. Have someone take you to the emergency room right away if you have trouble with fainting, a fast and irregular heartbeat, or feel severe crushing chest pain.



Exams and Tests


Outlook (Prognosis)

When to Contact a Medical Professional