What Is Heart Failure?

Your heart is one of the hardest working organs in your body, pumping out oxygen-rich blood to feed your body's cells 24 hours a day. Heart failure is a chronic and progressive condition where your heart can't keep up with its heavy workload. As a result, your body doesn't receive the oxygen it needs. Heart failure, or congestive heart failure (CHF) can range from mild to severe.

Download a free guide on heart failure and treatment options

Types of Heart Failure

A healthy heart will pump oxygen-rich blood to the entire body and circulate "used" blood back to the heart. If your heart failure is due to a pumping weakness, it may start on either the left or the right side of your heart, but eventually both chambers become strained. You could be suffering from any of these types of heart failure:

  • Left Sided or Left Ventricular Heart Failure: When the left side of your heart doesn't pump out all of the blood that it collects, causing fluid to back up into your lungs.
  • Right-Sided or Right Ventricular Heart Failure: When the right side of your heart cant pump properly, causing blood to back up into your veins.
  • Congestive Heart Failure: Blood flow slows down and fluid collects in the veins and around the heart, causing excess fluid to build up in the body's tissues.

What are the Symptoms of Heart Failure?

Heart failure and its symptoms can range from mild to severe, with your symptoms gradually becoming more serious:

Early symptoms resemble those of the flu:

  • Fatigue
  • Chills and fever
  • Body aches
  • Loss of appetite

As your condition progresses you may notice the following:

  • Sudden weight gain – 3 to 4 pounds in 24 to 48 hours or 2 pounds overnight
  • Swelling of the legs and ankles – also known as edema, this swelling is caused by fluid backups
  • Swelling, bloating or pain in the belly – can make you feel full faster than normal
  • Trouble sleeping – unless propped up on two or more pillows
  • Shortness of breath – which may happen all of the time, with exertion or only when waking up breathless in the night
  • Frequent dry, hacking cough – occurring most often when lying down

Diagnosis of Heart Failure

Diagnosis of Heart Failure

Once you report your symptoms to your physician, you will undergo a series of tests which, depending on your condition, may include:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): checks the electric activity of your heart.
  • Echocardiogram (ECHO): A sonogram of your heart to determine the condition of your heart valves, how well your heart pumps and any issues with your heart muscle
  • Exercise Test
  • Cardiac Catheterization
  • Ultrafast CT Scans: to detect buildup of calcium in the heart arteries
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Can offer more detail about your lower heart chambers

Once a detailed diagnosis is reached, your physician will determine the best treatment options for you.

Treatment at Penn

Medications and lifestyle changes may be all you need to help you control your heart failure.

If your condition is more advanced and you require an implantable device or surgery, know that Penn is a national leader in heart failure and transplantation. Penn Medicine's specialized heart failure cardiologists and surgeons offer medical treatments not available at other centers and perform more heart transplants per year than all of the regional heart transplant centers combined.

When you choose Penn, you choose to work with a dedicated team of cardiologists and heart surgeons who continue to lead the field, advancing the science of heart transplantation.


Tangee's Story

Heart Failure

Tangee was looking for the best heart failure physicians in Philadelphia. That's when she found Penn.

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