Congestive Heart Failure Home > Congestive Heart Failure

With heart failure, either the heart can't fill with enough blood or it doesn't pump with enough force. When this inability causes blood and fluid to back up into the lungs, the condition is called "congestive" heart failure. It causes shortness of breath and other symptoms, and this condition often cannot be cured. As congestive heart failure progresses, symptoms tend to worsen.

What Is Congestive Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a condition where the heart cannot pump enough blood throughout the body. It 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 cannot fill with enough blood or pump with enough force -- or both.
(Click Human Heart for more detailed information on how the heart works.)
Congestive heart failure (CHF) occurs when the poor pumping function of the heart leads to certain symptoms. Other names for the condition besides congestive heart failure are:
  • Left-sided heart failure
  • Right-sided heart failure
  • Systolic heart failure
  • Diastolic heart failure.

How the Disease Progresses

Congestive 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 cannot pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. With right-sided heart failure, the heart cannot effectively pump blood to the lungs, where it picks up oxygen.

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure

The weakening of the pumping ability of the heart causes:
  • Blood and fluid to "back up" into the lungs
  • Buildup of fluid in the feet, ankles, and legs
  • Tiredness and shortness of breath.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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