Different Types of Heart Failure

The term heart failure is an umbrella term as there are a few different types of heart failure. While they often are all clumped into one heart failure category, there are a few important differences that are worth knowing.

Left-sided heart failure

The left ventricle (the bottom part of the left side of the heart) is what pumps the blood to your entire body. When a person has left-sided heart failure, the left ventricle is weak and doesn’t pump blood effectively to the rest of the body. If the left-sided heart failure worsens, it can lead to a buildup of fluid in the lungs which will make breathing difficult and cause wheezing and coughing. When this fluid backs up into the lungs it is called congestive heart failure (CHF).

There are two different kinds of left-sided heart failure: systolic heart failure and diastolic heart failure. Both can cause similar symptoms.

Systolic heart failure

Systolic heart failure is when the left ventricle no longer contracts/pumps normally. Think of it as a pumping issue. With systolic heart failure, the heart's ejection fraction is reduced. Ejection fraction is how much blood the left ventricle pumps out with each contraction.

Diastolic heart failure

Diastolic heart failure is the condition when the ventricles are too stiff and do not expand, making them unable to fill as much as they should. This leads to an inadequate blood supply to the rest of the body and its vital organs. Think of it as a filling issue. The ejection fraction with diastolic heart failure is usually normal.

Right-sided heart failure

This type of heart failure almost always happens as a result of left-sided heart failure. When the left side of the heart (specifically the left ventricle) weakens, everything backs up and pressure goes back through the lungs which can damage the right side of the heart.

The weakening to the right ventricle in the heart makes it pump weaker and causes blood to back up in the veins throughout the body. Right-sided heart failure causes symptoms that most commonly include swelling in the abdomen, ankles, and legs.

Biventricular heart failure

Both sides of the heart are affected at the same time with biventricular heart failure. It can cause both the symptoms of left- and right-sided heart failure simultaneously.

Diagnosing and treating heart failure

Left-sided heart failure is the most common type of heart failure. Heart failure is diagnosed via blood tests, echocardiogram, chest X-rays, cardiac catheterization, and sometimes a cardiac MRI. If you suspect that you might be suffering from some form of heart failure, give your doctor a call and make an appointment to discuss your concerns.

Often they will start with a basic workup consisting of blood work and X-rays and then go from there. If your testing indicates potential heart failure, your doctor will likely refer you to see a cardiologist for more testing. They will then make treatment recommendations depending on what type of heart failure you might have as well as the severity.

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