Conditions InDepth: Heart Failure
by Michelle Badash, MS and Michael Jubinville, MPH
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.
Types of Heart Failure
The type of heart failure may be based on the side of the heart affected and current symptoms. Some examples include:
What are the risk factors for heart failure?
What are the symptoms of heart failure?
How is heart failure diagnosed?
What are the treatments for heart failure?
Are there screening tests for heart failure?
How can I reduce my risk of heart failure?
What questions should I ask my doctor?
Where can I get more information about heart failure?
About heart failure. American Heart Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated May 8, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2017.
Causes of heart failure. Heart Failure website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed September 15, 2017.
Explore heart failure. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf. Updated June 22, 2015. Accessed September 15, 2017.
Felker CM, Thompson RE, Hare JM, et al. Underlying causes and long-term survival in patients with initially unexplained cardiomyopathy. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(15):1077-1084.
He J, Ogden LG, Bazzano LA, Vupputuri S, Loria C, Whelton PK. Risk factors for congestive heart failure in US men and women: NHANES I epidemiologic follow-up study. Arch Intern Med. 2001;161(7):996-1002.
Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated September 1, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2017.
What is heart failure? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf/causes. Updated June 22, 2015. Accessed September 15, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 9/17/2014
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.