Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. The term “heart failure” should not be confused with “heart attack.” Heart failure occurs after the heart muscle has been damaged or weakened by another primary cause, such as high blood pressure , coronary artery disease , or certain kinds of infections. Depending on the cause, heart failure can occur gradually, over many years, while the heart tries to compensate for its loss of function, or it may occur more quickly if a lot of the heart muscle is damaged at once.
Blood Flow Through the Heart
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It is estimated that 5 million Americans are currently living with CHF. As the US population ages, and baby boomers are getting older, that number is expected to climb.
Types of CHF
CHF occurs when the heart muscle cannot pump adequate amounts of blood to meet the body’s needs. When the heart fails to keep up with demand, fluid can accumulate behind the failing heart chambers. In order to understand the types of CHF, you should first understand how the heart—the center of the circulatory systems—works.
The heart has two sides (right and left), and each side has two chambers. The four chambers of the heart have specific functions:
Two upper chambers (atria / atrium) —Receive blood from the body and empty the blood to the lower chambers
Two lower chambers (ventricles) —Receive blood from the upper chambers and pump blood back out to the body
The right atrium receives blood from the body and empties it into the right ventricle. The right ventricle pumps the blood out to the lungs where carbon dioxide is exchanged for needed oxygen. The left atrium receives blood rich in oxygen from the lungs and empties that blood into the left ventricle. The left ventricle is the strongest muscle/chamber in the heart and is responsible for pumping the blood back out to the body.
Heart failure can occur on either side of the heart and is classified as:
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Causes of CHF
There are several conditions that can cause CHF. It is important to accurately diagnose the underlying cause, as it will guide the course of treatment.
The two most common causes of CHF are:
Other conditions that cause CHF include:
What are the risk factors for congestive heart failure?
What are the symptoms of congestive heart failure?
How is congestive heart failure diagnosed?
What are the treatments for congestive heart failure?
Are there screening tests for congestive heart failure?
How can I reduce my risk of congestive heart failure?
What questions should I ask my doctor?
Where can I get more information about congestive heart failure?
American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org/ .
Felker CM, Thompson RE, Hare JM, et al. Underlying causes and long-term survival in patients with initially unexplained cardiomyopathy. N Engl J Med. 2000;342:1077.
He, J, Ogden, LG, Bazzano, LA, et al. Risk factors for congestive heart failure in US men and women: NHANES I epidemiologic follow-up study. Arch Intern Med. 2001;161:996.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/ .
Mayo Clinic Heart Center http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-failure/HB00061 Last accessed at January 30, 2007
Last reviewed September 2012 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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