The heart is slightly larger than the fist and constantly pumps blood through the circulatory system. The heart is made of two chambers on the left and two chambers on right sides. The upper chambers are atria. The lower chambers are called ventricles. When an individual has heart failure, the heart can't keep up with the usual workload. Heart failure is a progressive and chronic condition which can occur on either the left or right side.
When the heart can no longer keep up with its duties, it tries to compensate. It can pump faster to increase the heart's output. The chambers may enlarge as the heart stretches to pump more blood. In addition, the heart can increase its muscle mass. This happens when the contracting cells in the heart become bigger. Initially, the heart will maintain strong pumping power. However, these are temporary measures that will eventually fail. When that happens, an individual can experience breathing problems and fatigue.
Once the heart moves oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the left atrium, the blood proceeds to the heart's left ventricle. The left ventricle then must pump the blood to the rest of the body. Since the left ventricle is larger than the other chambers, it is responsible for majority of the heart's pumping power. Therefore, when an individual has left-sided heart failure, that portion of the heart has to work twice as hard to pump a normal about of blood.
There are two types of heart failure that occur on the left side of the heart. With diastolic failure, the left heart ventricle no longer has the ability to relax. So the muscle can become stiff. Thus, when a person is resting, the heart can't properly fill with blood between each heart beat. Systolic failure is the heart pump with enough force.
The right side of the heart pumps the "used" blood, or the blood that started out of the left side, back to the heart. In other words, the new blood travels to the veins, then through the right atrium before it goes into the right ventricle. Then the ventricle pumps the "recycled" blood from the heart and into the lungs. Once in the lungs, the blood is replenished with oxygen.
Heart failure in the right side of the heart is the result of failure in the left side. Once the left ventricle fails, it places more pressure on the right side. With the pressure of increased fluid, the blood reverses into the lungs. This pressure will damage the heart's right side. After the heart's right side loses pumping power, a person will feel the affects in other areas. For instance, the blood can travel back to the veins and cause swelling in the ankles and legs.
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