How Heart Failure Affects Your Body

About 5.7 million people in the United States have heart failure. The number of people who have this condition is growing.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure happens when your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Heart failure develops over time as the heart’s pumping action grows weaker. Sometimes, the heart can’t fill with enough blood. Sometimes, the heart can’t pump blood to the rest of the body with enough force. Some people have both problems.

  • Right-side heart failure occurs if the heart can’t pump enough blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen. If you have right-side heart failure, you may find fluid building up in your feet, ankles, legs, liver, abdomen, and the veins in the neck.
  • Left-side heart failure occurs if the heart can’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.

Both right-side and left-side heart failure may make you feel short of breath and tired.

Causes of heart failure

Heart failure comes mainly from diseases that damage the heart. Here are some of the causes.

Ischemic Heart Disease

Ischemic heart disease happens when a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle. Plaque narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to your heart muscle. When plaque builds up, blood clots can form in the arteries. These clots can partially or completely block blood flow. Ischemic heart disease can lead to chest pain or discomfort called angina, a heart attack, and heart damage.


Diabetes happens when the body’s blood glucose (sugar) level is too high. Normally, your body breaks down food into glucose and then carries it to cells in your body. The cells use insulin to turn the glucose into energy. In diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use its insulin properly. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage and weaken the heart muscle and the blood vessels around the heart. This leads to heart failure.

High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can weaken your heart and lead to plaque buildup. Blood pressure is considered high if it stays at or above 140/90 mmHg over time.

Irregular heartbeat

In a normal heart, the upper chambers (called the atria) and lower chambers (the ventricles) squeeze and relax in turn to move blood through your body. If your heart is weak, these chambers might not squeeze at the right time. Your heart might beat too slowly, too quickly, or in an irregular pattern. When the rhythm is off, your heart can’t pump enough blood out to your body. This means that your blood can pool and this might lead to clots. The clot can break free and travel to different parts of your body. If it travels to your brain and blocks a blood vessel in the brain, you could have a stroke.

Heart valve disease.

This happens when one or more of your heart valves doesn’t work properly, which can be present at birth or caused by infection, other heart conditions, and age.

Your heart has four valves that open and close to keep blood flowing in and out of your heart. If one or more of these valves doesn’t work properly, your heart has to work harder to pump out blood. Your heart can get bigger and this change in size can damage the valves. As your heart works harder, it becomes weaker and the damage increases.

Living with heart failure

You can’t cure heart failure, but you can manage it by following your treatment plan. Medicines, diet, exercise, and surgery are just some of the treatments your doctor might suggest to prevent these problems.