Five types of heart failure: Acute, chronic, left-sided, right-sided, and congestive heart failure

types of heart failureMany people assume that heart failure is a singular problem, when really, there are different types of heart failure. Here we look at heart failure types and what they mean.

When we hear the term “heart failure,” it conjures up thoughts of the heart not working at all; however, heart failure really means that the heart isn’t pumping as well as it should. Our bodies rely on the pumping action of the heart to deliver oxygen and blood to the body’s cells. If the cells are not nourished, our body will not function well.


If a heart is weakened and can’t supply cells with the proper amount of blood, symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and regular coughing can occur. At the same time, simple, everyday activities like walking, carrying groceries, and climbing a set of stairs can become difficult.

We’ll look at five different types of heart failure, including congestive heart failure, which is a type of heart failure that requires immediate medical attention. Research suggests that approximately five million Americans are currently suffering from this type of heart failure. Despite what some people may think, it does not just impact the elderly. Anyone can get congestive heart failure at any age.

Different types of heart failure

Acute heart failure

We begin our look at different types of heart failure with acute heart failure. Acute heart failure is a type of heart failure that comes on suddenly and with severe symptoms. It can follow a heart attack where there is damage to part of the heart. Sometimes, a person develops acute heart failure and it is initially severe but only lasts a short period of time. It does require treatment and medications and often leads to hospitalization. Despite medical advancements, acute heart failure still has a high morbidity and mortality rate.

There are a number of causes of acute heart failure, including those listed below:

  • Infections
  • Allergic reactions
  • A blood clot in the lungs
  • Viruses that damage the heart
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart attack

There are risk factors that can weaken the heart over time and lead to acute heart failure. Those risk factors include high blood pressure, substance abuse, sleep apnea, diabetes, and narrowing of the arteries.

More often than not, a combination of medications is needed to control the symptoms associated with acute heart failure. Those medications could be drugs to widen blood vessels, reduce blood pressure, or strengthen heart contractions. Often times, diuretics are prescribed to prevent water retention.

Chronic heart failure

With chronic heart failure, the heart does not stop functioning like it would in the case of a cardiac arrest, but it does function less effectively. Chronic heart failure can come on quickly or slowly. In slow cases, the heart can adapt to working harder for a long time, but sooner or later, it has difficulty coping and symptoms will appear.

This type of heart failure occurs when the heart muscle becomes damaged and weak. Once the heart sustains damage, it can’t heal. This damage can be due to a heart attack or some kind of long-term health problem, such as diabetes, heart disease, or even high blood pressure. Chronic heart failure can also be the result of a disease of the heart muscle known as cardiomyopathy.

Some of the common symptoms associated with chronic heart failure include feeling breathless, losing appetite, feeling dizzy, gaining weight, and having swollen legs.

Chronic heart failure tends to be seen in the elderly. It is about 50 percent in the 80 to 89 age range. In Australia, studies indicate that this type of heart failure accounts for two percent of all deaths. It is estimated that over 600,000 Americans develop new heart failure every year.

Also read: How to treat ischemic cardiomyopathy? Causes, symptoms, and prognosis

Left-sided heart failure

This might be a term that you have not heard of before, but left-sided heart failure is real. It is not as much of a disease as it is a process, so this could account for it being less familiar to the general public.

The heart’s main pumping power originates from the left ventricle (one of two large chambers in the heart). The pumping power is weakened in left-sided heart failure. In normal conditions, the heart pumps oxygen-rich blood from the lungs into the heart’s left atrium, into the left ventricle and then through the body. When either of the two main types of left-sided heart failure, systolic heart failure or diastolic heart failure occurs, the heart has to work harder.

When systolic heart failure happens, the left ventricle has difficulty contracting in a strong enough fashion to keep blood circulating throughout the body. This means that the body is being deprived of a normal supply of blood. As the left ventricle is pumping harder, it gets weaker and thinner. The end result is that blood flows backward into organs, which causes fluid to build up in the lungs. This can also lead to swelling in other parts of the body.

In cases where diastolic heart failure is the problem, the left ventricle has become stiff and thick. What happens in these situations is that the left ventricle is unable to fill the lower left chamber of the heart properly, and thus the amount of blood pumped out to the body is reduced. This leads to blood being built up inside the left atrium, as well as the lungs. It causes fluid congestion and other symptoms of heart failure.

Also read: How to treat left ventricular hypertrophy naturally: Causes, symptoms, and diagnosis

Right-sided heart failure

With right-sided heart failure, the right side of the heart is not pumping blood to the lungs as well as it should be. Research shows that most people develop heart failure due to a problem with the left ventricle; however, malfunction of the right ventricle is often linked with heart failure.

When blood backs up behind a failing left ventricle, it becomes harder for the right ventricle to pump returning blood through the lungs. Over time, the right ventricle will weaken and start to fail. So, the most common cause of right-sided heart failure is left-sided heart failure. There are other causes though, including those outlined in the list below:

  • Chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema, pulmonary hypertension, and pulmonary embolism.
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Pulmonic stenosis – limits blood flow out of right ventricle
  • Tricuspid stenosis – narrowing of the tricuspid valve
  • Tricuspid regurgitation – valve closure problem
  • Pericardial constriction – inflammation of sac around heart
  • Left-to-right shunt – an abnormal connection between left and right of the heart, which is present at birth.

Also read: Pericarditis chest pain causes, symptoms and treatment comparison with myocarditis

Congestive heart failure

Many disease processes can impact the pumping of the heart and cause congestive heart failure. The term “congestive heart failure” really comes from the blood backing up or congestive organs, such as the lungs, liver, abdomen, and lower extremities. Not all heart failure is congestive.

Many people have confused congestive heart failure with a heart attack. Clogging of an artery that gives blood to the heart causes a heart attack, but congestive heart failure is the heart not pumping blood effectively.

If someone is suffering from congestive heart failure, they will likely experience fluid build-up, but also other symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling.

When it comes to treating congestive heart failure, there are a number of approaches. Medications, lifestyle adjustments, surgical procedures, including heart transplants, and mechanical therapies are all potential options.

There is no denying that heart failure is a serious health condition that has no cure. Still, it is important to know that many people who suffer from heart failure do lead full lives. These are individuals who manage their condition by following the guidelines set out by their health care team, which often includes a combination of medications and healthy lifestyle habits.

People who have heart failure also benefit from a strong support system, so if you have a family member or friend who has been diagnosed with any type of heart failure, learn as much as you can about their condition and offer your support.



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