Heart failure

Heart failure does not mean your heart has failed or stopped beating. It means that your heart, which is a muscle that pumps blood to all parts of your body, is not working as well as it should and cannot pump as much blood as your body needs. As your heart's pumping action lessens, blood may back up in your lungs, liver, or legs. This can cause shortness of breath, leg swelling (called edema), and other problems. In addition, organs in your body may not get the oxygen and nutrients they need to function properly.

Heart failure is a chronic (ongoing) condition that develops over time. It is usually caused by underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart disease. These conditions damage your heart, making the heart muscle stiff or thick. The damaged muscle either cannot relax properly to let the pumping chambers of the heart, the ventricles, fill with enough blood, or it cannot contract properly to let the ventricles pump out enough blood. The left ventricle is the main pumping chamber, and heart failure usually starts on the left side. When the left ventricle cannot contract enough, it is called systolic heart failure. When the left ventricle cannot fill with enough blood, it is called diastolic heart failure. You can have a combination of both types of heart failure.

Although some conditions that cause heart failure are irreversible, you can manage the condition and improve your health and quality of life with a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.

People with heart failure should be under the care of a cardiologist.

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Review Date: 12/19/2015  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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