Your heart is a pump that pushes blood through your body. Sometimes, this pump weakens and isn’t able to keep the blood flowing through your body as well anymore. This is called heart failure, or congestive heart failure. It doesn’t mean your heart has stopped working, but rather that it doesn’t work as well as it used to.
Heart failure can happen when one or both sides of the heart become weaker. Your heart has two upper atria and two lower ventricles. Most people with heart failure have left-sided heart failure.
Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure means that the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. It is often the result of severe coronary artery disease.
Left-sided Heart Failure
The left side of the heart brings oxygen-rich blood from the lungs through the left atrium to the left ventricle, then out into your body. When the left side of your heart is damaged or can’t pump as well, it has to work harder to send blood through your body.
This causes fluid to build up in your body, especially the lungs. That’s why shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms of heart failure.
Systolic vs. Diastolic Heart Failure
With left-sided heart failure, you may have systolic or diastolic failure. Systolic failure happens when the heart doesn’t pump out blood the way it should. Diastolic means the heart doesn’t fill back up with blood as it should.
Right-sided Heart Failure
The right side of the heart usually becomes weaker in response to failure on the left side. The right side of the heart brings in the circulated blood from the body and sends it to the lungs for oxygen.
When the left side of the heart weakens, the right side of the heart has to work harder to compensate. Again, as the heart muscle loses strength, blood and fluid become backed up in the body. You may experience swelling and trouble catching your breath.
Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, following a healthy diet, and exercising regularly are key to living with heart failure. Depending on the type of heart failure and causes behind it, your doctor may make different recommendations for medication, surgery, or implanted devices.
To learn more about heart failure diagnosis and management, visit the UPMC Advanced Heart Failure Center.