An Inside Look at Heart Failure

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In a healthy heart, blood from the body is pumped through the right side of the heart to the lungs to pick up oxygen. From there, the oxygen rich blood returns to the left side of the heart, which pumps it through the aorta to the rest of the body. Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Conditions that damage or overwork the heart muscle can lead to heart failure like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.

Over time, the heart weakens and either can't fill with enough blood or can't pump blood to the body with enough force. Sometimes both problems happen together. To compensate, the heart may beat faster. And the chambers may either stretch to hold more blood or become stiff and thickened to help pump more blood through. But this only makes the heart weaker.

Blood and fluid can back up into the lungs. And the kidneys may respond by retaining water and salt. This excess fluid causes swelling in the body, adding even more strain on the heart. While there is no cure for heart failure, early diagnosis and treatment can help people who have it live longer, more active lives.