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Heart failure

enlarged chambers

Heart failure doesn't mean your heart has stopped working or is about to stop working. It also doesn't mean that you have had a heart attack.

Heart failure means your heart isn't pumping blood as efficiently as it should. Because your heart isn't able to pump the normal amount of blood out of your ventricles, the blood vessels leading into your heart can become congested or "backed up" with blood.

Your heart may be damaged and pump with less force. To try to keep the same amount of blood moving through your body, the chambers stretch and enlarge to hold more blood.

thickened walls

This process is called heart enlargement. Your heart muscle begins to weaken as it tries to pump this increased blood.

Because your heart is weakened, it pumps less blood to your organs — especially to your kidneys, which normally helps your body remove excess fluid.

Eventually, parts of your body hold excess fluid that isn't being circulated very well by your heart. Your body becomes congested with fluid. This is why heart failure is sometimes called "congestive heart failure."

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Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Helping Your Heart, fourth edition, cvs-ahc-90648

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 06/01/2007

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts