Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood throughout the body. Heart failure does not mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop working. It means that your heart is not able to pump blood the way that it should. The heart can't fill with enough blood or pump with enough force, or both.
Heart failure develops over time as the pumping action of the heart grows weaker. It can affect the left side, the right side, or both sides of the heart. Most cases involve the left side where the heart can't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. With right-sided failure, the heart can't effectively pump blood to the lungs where the blood picks up oxygen.
The weakening of the heart's pumping ability causes:
- Blood and fluid to "back up" into the lungs
- The buildup of fluid in the feet, ankles, and legs
- Tiredness and shortness of breath
Heart failure is a serious condition. About 5 million people in the United States have heart failure, and the number is growing. Each year, another 550,000 people are diagnosed for the first time. It contributes to or causes about 300,000 deaths each year.
How the Heart Works
The heart is a muscle about the size of your fist. It works like a pump and beats 100,000 times a day.
The heart has two sides, separated by an inner wall called the septum. The right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen. Then, oxygen-rich blood returns from the lungs to the left side of the heart, and the left side pumps it to the body.
The heart has four chambers and four valves and is connected to various blood vessels. Veins are the blood vessels that carry blood from the body to the heart. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart to the body.