Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier
WebMD

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine
WebMD

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion
    WebMD

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community
    WebMD

    Community

    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Heart Failure Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Heart Failure: Compensation by the Heart and Body - Topic Overview

Heart failure means that your heart muscle doesn't pump as much blood as your body needs. Because your heart cannot pump well, your heart and your body try to make up for it. This is called compensation.

Your body has a remarkable ability to compensate for heart failure. The body may do such a good job that many people don't feel symptoms in the earlier stages of heart failure. It is only when your body isn't able to compensate enough that you will begin to experience symptoms.

Recommended Related to Heart Health

Stem Cells Healing Hearts

Jim Dearing of Louisville, Ky., one of the first men in the world to receive heartstem cells, might have helped start a medical revolution that could lead to a cure for heart failure. Three years after getting the experimental stem cell procedure, following two heart attacks and heart failure, Dearing’s heart is working normally. The difference is clear and dramatic -- and it's lasting, according to findings now being made public for the first time. Dearing first showed "completely normal heart...

Read the Stem Cells Healing Hearts article > >

Compensation may help your body adjust to the effects of heart failure in the short term. But over time it can make heart failure worse by further enlarging the heart and reducing the pumping ability of the heart.

How does the body compensate?

With heart failure, the heart doesn't pump as well as it should. So your body doesn't get enough blood and oxygen. When this occurs, the body believes that there isn't enough fluid inside its vessels. The body's hormone and nervous systems try to make up for this by increasing blood pressure, holding on to salt (sodium) and water in the body, and increasing heart rate. These responses are the body's attempt to compensate for the poor blood circulation and backup of blood.

  • The nervous system. If your body senses that the brain and vital organs aren't receiving enough blood, the sympathetic nervous system starts working to get more blood to your brain and organs. This system releases substances called catecholamines into the bloodstream. These substances cause the blood vessels to constrict and speed up the heart rate. At the same time, the arteries supplying the brain and vital organs widen to carry the increased blood flow.
  • Hormone systems. When the body thinks it needs more fluid in its blood vessels, it releases specific chemicals (renin, angiotensin, and aldosterone) that cause the blood vessels to constrict. In addition, these hormones cause the body to retain more sodium and water. This adds fluid to your circulatory system. This fluid becomes part of the blood circulating throughout your system.
1 | 2 | 3
1 | 2 | 3
Next Article:

Heart Failure: Compensation by the Heart and Body Topics

Today on WebMD

Compressed heart
Article
Salt Shockers
Slideshow
 
Inside A Heart Attack
Slideshow
lowering blood pressure
SLIDESHOW
 

Mechanical Heart
Article
Omega 3 Overview Slideshow
Slideshow
 
Atrial Fibrillation Guide
Slideshow
Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
Slideshow
 

Compressed heart
Article
FAQ Heart Failure
Article
 
Cholesterol Confusion
Health Check
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Slideshow
 

WebMD Special Sections