Heart Failure—Types, Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Posted by Medical Board on April 27, 2017 in Heart Health Men Women

Congestive Heart Failure Affects Many

Weighing scarcely 11 ounces, the extraordinary human heart, many of us take for granted, pumps roughly 2000 gallons of blood through some 60,000 miles of blood vessels in us every day. Sadly, 5.7 million people in the United States currently suffer with heart failure,[7]and 1 in 5 will develop some form of it in their lifetime.

What Is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a serious medical condition whereby the heart is unable to pump a sufficient amount of blood to meet the body’s demands. This is because the heart cannot adequately fill with blood, or because the organ can’t pump blood forcefully enough to the other areas of the body. In either case, heart failure does not mean the heart has “suddenly” stopped working, or will do so anytime soon.

Types of Heart Failure

Heart failure happens over time, gradually, as the heart’s ability to pump strong enough, diminishes. Heart failure can also affect one or both sides of the heart. Right-sided heart failure happens when the heart is unable to pump an adequate amount of used blood into the lungs to gather oxygen.

Left-sided heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood, (rich in oxygen) to the rest of the body.

Two types of left ventricle failure include:

Systolic failure: Left ventricle can’t normally contract. This does not allow heart to pump forcefully enough for blood to circulate.

Diastolic failure (also called diastolic dysfunction): The left ventricle can no longer properly relax, thus the heart does not fill properly with blood between heartbeats.[5]

What is congestive heart failure?

Congestive heart failure occurs when blood flow out of the heart slows down, and blood returning through the veins backs up. This causes congestion in bodily tissues, and swelling in the legs and ankles results. Fluid in the lungs may also collect, especially while lying down. This is known as, “pulmonary edema” and accounts for shortness of breath. The kidneys may also retain fluids due to congestive heart failure.[5]

Heart Failure Symptoms

Heart failure is characterized by a variety of symptoms depending on the side of the heart affected.

Right-sided heart failure includes fluid build up in feet, ankles, legs, liver, abdomen, and neck veins.

Left-sided heart failure often results in shortness of breath and fatigue.[7]

Other Signs and Symptoms of Heart Failure

  • Pulmonary edema
  • Chronic Coughing or Wheezing
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Cognitive impairment
  • High heart rate[5]

Heart Failure Guidelines

In order to further promote awareness of heart failure, The American Heart Association, along with other agencies have created, “Get With The Guidelines, Heart Failure”, comprehensive programs for heart healthcare employees and patients. These include a data tracking performance patient management tool, scientific publications, professional education workshops and webinars, educational materials, and a clinical tools library. Many hospitals and medical professionals have utilized updated heart failure guidelines to help advance possible treatment modalities, explore alternative medical options, and further promote healthy lifestyle changes to reduce current symptoms.[1]

Causes of Heart Failure

Heart failure may be caused from a number of medical conditions, lifestyle factors, and diseases including:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Arrhythmia—This occurs when the heart beats outside of its regular
  • Cardiomyopathy—This condition affects the heart muscle, making it enlarged, thick, or rigid.
  • Congenital heart defects—Children are born with a heart that has a structural defect.
  • Heart valve disease—One or more heart valves does not correctly work. This can be congenital, or present after an infection or alcohol or drug abuse, including cocaine or other illegal drugs.
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Excessive amounts of vitamin E
  • Radiation and chemotherapy for cancer treatment[6]

Congestive Heart Failure Treatment

Heart failure treatment is based on the severity and type of heart failure at the time of diagnosis. The goal of treatment is to identify and treat the underlying cause, reduce symptoms, stop the heart failure from getting worse and improve quality of life.

Heart Treatment may include any or all of the following:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medication
  • Surgical procedures
  • Monitoring[4]

Chronic Heart Failure

Chronic heart failure occurs slowly over time, as the heart becomes weak and permanently damaged. While there is no cure for chronic heart failure in general, many individuals can improve their medical condition through lifestyle changes such as, weight loss, cutting salt consumption, reducing alcohol intake, and quitting smoking.

Heart Failure Treatment

The treatment approach used for heart failure patients varies greatly and is dependent on the age of the individual, the stage of heart failure, and the area of the heart that is specifically affected.

Pharmacology for the Heart

Common treatments include medications such as, Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. These work to widen blood vessels, thus allowing the heart to pump blood more easily. Angiotension II receptor blockers (ARBs) also dilate blood vessels and can be used for patients who cannot tolerate ACE inhibitors. A combination of the two medications may be prescribed and have been successful in reducing the number of cardiac events in some individuals as well. Diuretics may be used in patients to facilitate urination and relieve fluid build up in the tissues. Isosorbide dinitrate and hydralazine hydrochloride (BiDil) are combined to dilate blood vessels also. Beta-blockers may be used, under certain circumstances. If there is evidence of systolic heart failure, beta- blockers may limit or reverse some of the damage incurred.[2]

Coronary bypass surgery—If blocked arteries are the primary cause of heart failure blood vessels from the leg, arm, or chest may be surgically implanted to bypass coronary arteries. This allows blood to flow through the heart more freely.

Heart valve repair or replacement—The original heart valve can be modified to eliminate backward blood flow. Heart valve replacement can also be done when repair is not an option.

Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs)—This device can act as a pacemaker and also shock the heart back to a normal rhythm if necessary.

Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT), or biventricular pacing-This pacemaker sends electrical signals to both the upper and lower chambers of the heart.

Heart pumps—These devices assist the weakened heart by helping to pump blood throughout the body. Heart transplant-For some heart failure patients, a heart transplant is the only option for a healthy, disease-free life. Many individuals are sustained through device or drug therapy while waiting for a donor heart.[3]

Heart Failure Prevention—The Key To A Healthy Heart

Maintaining a smoke-free lifestyle, eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of rest and exercise, and keeping stress to a minimum all contribute to a healthy heart muscle. While certain risk factors for heart disease may be hereditary, or caused from a congenital defect, lifestyle choices contribute to many heart conditions and diseases.

At the center of each of us, is a beating heart, circulating blood throughout the body, driving oxygen to the brain, moving blood borne precious nutrients to every cell in the body, as it maintains a perfect rhythm. When that rhythm is disturbed through disease, disorder, or defect, heart failure can occur. Finding proper individualized treatment is critical for the health of your heart, and the overall quality of your life.


1″Get With The Guidelines-Heart Failure”. Heart.Org, 2017, https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Professional/GetWithTheGuidelines/GetWithTheGuidelines-HF/Get-With-The-Guidelines-Heart-Failure-Home-Page_UCM_306087_SubHomePage.jsp.

2″Heart Failure”. University Of Maryland Medical Center, 2017, http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/heart-failure.

3″Heart Failure Treatments And Drugs – Mayo Clinic”. Mayo Clinic, 2017, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-failure/basics/treatment/con-20029801.

4″How Is Heart Failure Treated? – NHLBI, NIH”. Nhlbi.Nih.Gov, 2017, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf/treatment.

5″Types Of Heart Failure”. Heart.Org, 2017, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/AboutHeartFailure/Types-of-Heart-Failure_UCM_306323_Article.jsp#.WP-fJ2U4mb8.

6″What Causes Heart Failure? – NHLBI, NIH”. Nhlbi.Nih.Gov, 2017, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf/causes.

7″What Is Heart Failure? – NHLBI, NIH”. Nhlbi.Nih.Gov, 2017, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf.

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