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About Heart Failure

Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood through the heart to meet the body's needs for blood and oxygen. Basically, the heart can't keep up with its workload.

At first the heart tries to make up for this by:

  • Enlarging. When the heart chamber enlarges, it stretches more and can contract more strongly, so it pumps more blood.
  • Developing more muscle mass. The increase in muscle mass occurs because the contracting cells of the heart get bigger. This lets the heart pump more strongly, at least initially.
  • Pumping faster. This helps to increase the heart's output.

The body also tries to compensate in other ways:

  • The blood vessels narrow to keep blood pressure up, trying to make up for the heart's loss of power.
  • The body diverts blood away from less important tissues and organs to maintain flow to the most vital organs, the heart and brain.

These temporary measures mask the problem of heart failure, but they don't solve it. Heart failure continues and worsens until these substitute processes no longer work. Eventually the heart and body just can't keep up, and the person experiences the fatigue, breathing problems or other symptoms that usually prompt a trip to the doctor.