Get answers to your Heart Failure questions.
Cardiomyopathy; Congestive heart failure
To understand what occurs in heart failure, it helps to be familiar with the anatomy of the heart and how it works. The heart is composed of two independent pumping systems, one on the right side, and the other on the left. Each has two chambers, an atrium and a ventricle. The ventricles are the major pumps in the heart.
The Right Side of the Heart. The right system receives blood from the veins of the whole body. This is "used" blood, which is poor in oxygen and rich in carbon dioxide.
The Left Side of the Heart. The left system receives blood from the lungs. This blood is now rich in oxygen.
The Valves. Valves are muscular flaps that open and close so blood will flow in the right direction. There are four valves in the heart:
The Heart's Electrical System. The heartbeats are triggered and regulated by the conducting system, a network of specialized muscle cells that form an independent electrical system in the heart muscles. These cells are connected by channels that pass chemically-triggered electrical impulses.
Heart failure is not a disease. It is a condition or process in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body's tissues. The heart doesn't "fail" in the sense of ceasing to beat (as occurs during cardiac arrest). Rather, it weakens, usually over the course of months or years, so that it is unable to pump out all the blood that enters its chambers. As a result, fluids tend to build up in the lungs and tissues, causing congestion. This condition used to be called "congestive heart failure," but the name was officially changed to heart failure in 2005.
Ways the Heart Can Fail. Heart failure can occur in several ways:
The specific effects of heart failure on the body depend on whether it occurs on the left or right sides of the heart. Over time, however, in either form of heart failure, the organs in the body do not receive enough oxygen and nutrients, and the body's wastes are removed slowly. Eventually, vital systems break down.
Failure on the Left Side (Left-Ventricular Heart Failure). Failure on the left side of the heart is more common than failure on the right side. The failure can be a result of abnormal systolic (contraction) or diastolic (relaxation) action:
Failure on the Right Side (Right-Ventricular Heart Failure). Failure on the right side of the heart is most often a result of failure on the left. Because the right ventricle receives blood from the veins, failure here causes the blood to back up. As a result, the veins in the body and tissues surrounding the heart to swell. This causes swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, and abdomen. Pulmonary hypertension (increase in pressure in the lung's pulmonary artery) and lung disease may also cause right-sided heart failure.
Ejection Fraction. To help determine the severity of left-sided heart failure, doctors use an ejection fraction (EF) calculation, also called a left-ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF). This is the percentage of the blood pumped out from the left ventricle during each heartbeat. An ejection fraction of 50 - 75% is considered normal. Patients with left-ventricular heart failure are classified as either having a preserved ejection fraction (greater than 50%) or a reduced ejection fraction (less than 50%).
Patients with preserved LVEF heart failure are more likely to be female and older, and have a history of high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation (a disturbance in heart rhythm).
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