What is heart failure?

Heart Asset Index

How does the heart work?

The heart is a muscle. It pumps blood and oxygen through your body. The heart is made up of four chambers. The two upper chambers are called atria. The two lower chambers are called ventricles. Blood from the body enters the right side of the heart. From there, it is pumped into the lungs where it fills with oxygen. Oxygen-filled blood is pumped back to the left side of the heart. The left side of the heart then pumps blood throughout the body.

What is cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a word you may hear. It means the heart muscle is not working the right way. This can lead to heart failure.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure happens when the heart cannot pump enough blood through the body. Heart failure is common. More than five million Americans live with it.

What is happening to my heart?

The heart can have a pumping problem or a filling problem. Heart failure can happen on the right side, the left side, or both sides of the heart. The left side of the heart is the main pumping chamber. When the heart does not pump properly, it is called systolic heart failure.

Our hearts pump, then relax, pump, relax. When the heart does not relax the right way, it is called diastolic heart failure. When your heart doesn’t pump well, blood can back up into your lungs or other tissues. This is a problem because your heart is not doing all the work your body needs.

Why do people have heart failure?

Some people have heart failure because the heart muscle has been damaged or is weak. Other people have heart failure with no known cause. This is called idiopathic, which means heart failure without a known cause.

Risk factors for heart failure:

  • Coronary artery disease (a build-up of plaque in the arteries)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Past heart attack
  • Heart valve problems
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Congenital (born with) heart problems
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Thyroid problems
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol (fat in the blood)
  • Stress
  • Lack of exercise
  • Heart problems in the family
Last reviewed: 
May 2018

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