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What is Heart Failure?

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In a very basic sense, heart failure occurs when a heart is too damaged or weak to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs for the oxygen and nutrients found in the bloodstream.

Heart failure is a chronic, long-term condition that cannot be cured. But it can be managed — through a doctor-prescribed combination of lifestyle changes, heart medications and surgical treatment.

These pages explain how heart failure develops, how it's diagnosed and how HonorHealth's heart specialists help you manage the disease. This section includes:

  • Causes of heart failure: A variety of conditions, including coronary artery disease, can lead to the development of heart failure.
  • Symptoms of heart failure: Cough, pulmonary crackles, reduced urine output, fatigue and other symptoms are keys to detecting heart failure early.
  • Diagnosing heart failure: A clinical assessment of the patient is a fundamental part of arriving at a heart failure diagnosis.
  • Treatment of heart failure: Therapies for heart failure span the categories of medication, medical devices, surgery and lifestyle management.
  • Living with heart failure: Carefully following a prescribed treatment regimen is the most important key to managing heart failure on a long-term basis.

There are several categories of heart failure. Generally speaking, these depend on the area of the heart that has been damaged or weakened.

  • Systolic heart failure: The inability of the heart to contract enough to pump blood forward — out of the heart and into the body.
  • Diastolic heart failure: The inability of the left ventricle to relax normally. Because it is stiffened, it fills with less blood than normal.
  • Left-sided heart failure: The inability of the left ventricle to pump enough blood to the body. As the heart pumps, the left atrium receives blood from the lungs and passes blood to the left ventricle. When the left ventricle becomes weak, blood and other fluids back up into the lungs.
  • Right-sided heart failure: Together, the right atrium (which receives blood from the body) and right ventricle (which pumps blood to the lung) fail to pump efficiently, leading to congestion or fluid buildup in the abdomen, legs and feet.
  • Acute heart failure: The condition ensues rapidly, in an emergency fashion. Suddenly, the patient loses the ability to compensate for the heart's deficiencies. While the typical acute heart failure patient may not exhibit symptoms prior to the onset of heart failure, he or she will exhibit symptoms following injury to the heart, often caused by myocardial infarction (heart attack).
  • Chronic heart failure: Most likely the result of a pre-existing cardiac condition, this is a long-term syndrome in which the patient experiences persistent symptoms over a prolonged period of time.

Find an HonorHealth cardiologist.