Understanding heart failure

enlarged heart

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 well 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 to hold more blood. This is known as heart enlargement. Your heart muscle begins to weaken as it tries to pump this increased blood.

hypertrophied heart

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

Parts of your body can hold extra fluid that isn't being moved very well by your heart. Your body becomes congested with fluid. This is why heart failure is sometimes called "congestive heart failure."

The illustrations show that heart failure can be caused by enlarged chambers or thickened walls.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Heart Failure, fifth edition, 1-931876-31-2
First Published: 10/04/2002
Last Reviewed: 12/10/2015