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Winthrop University Hospital

Heart Failure Treatment Center

What is Heart Failure?

Heart Failure is a chronic condition in which a diseased heart decreases a person's ability to be as physically active as they should be. The blood is not being pumped efficiently by the heart which causes fluid buildup in the lungs and the other body tissues. Heart failure can involve the heart's left side, right side, or both sides. The left side is usually affected first. Heart failure is a long-term condition that gradually gets worse. The heart tries to make up for the loss of pumping capacity by doing three things initially:
  • Enlarging- to pump blood more efficiently
  • Developing more muscle mass- the heart pumps more strongly
  • Pumping faster- to increase the heart's output
Left-sided heart failure is also known as left-ventricular heart failure. If the ventricle loses its ability to contract, it is known as systolic failure; the heart is unable to pump forcefully enough to get enough blood into circulation. If the ventricle loses its ability to relax, known as diastolic failure, the muscle is stiff, and the heart won't properly fill with blood during the resting cycle. The blood coming into the left chamber backs up and causes fluid to leak into the lungs. This is called pulmonary edema. The slow blood flow also causes edema or excess fluid all over the body. The fluid is also called congestion. This is where we get the term "congestive heart failure" or CHF.
Right-sided heart failure is known as right-ventricular heart failure. This usually occurs as a result of left-sided failure. The back up of fluid from the left side damages the right ventricle because the pressure is too great.

What Causes Heart Failure?

Congestive Heart Failure is a weakening of the heart (a pump), which can be caused by an underlying heart or blood vessel problem. Sometimes several factors occur together which weaken the heart. The causes or heart failure are many and can include:
  • Weakened heart muscle
  • Damaged heart valves
  • Blocked blood vessels supplying the heart muscle (coronary arteries), leading to a heart attack
  • Toxic exposures, like alcohol or cocaine
  • Infections
  • High blood pressure that results in thickening of the heart muscle (left ventricular hypertrophy)
  • Pericardial disease, such as pericardial effusion (a large collection of fluid around the heart in the space between the heart muscle and the thick layer of pericardium surrounding the heart) and/or a thickened pericardium, which does not allow the heart to fill properly
  • Congenital heart diseases
  • Prolonged, serious arrhythmias

Symptoms of Heart Failure

Many patients have several of the symptoms listed below. Many other medical conditions can present with these symptoms, so it is best to seek medical attention when these symptoms occur.
  • Breathless with exertion
  • Breathlessness when lying flat
  • Fatigue, Tiredness, Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Fluid accumulation
  • Generalized edema
  • Swollen legs
  • Swollen feet
  • Swollen ankles
  • Lung congestion
  • Abnormal weight gain
  • Persistent coughing
  • Coughing up small amounts of blood
  • Raspy breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Night urination

Treatment of Heart Failure

Heart failure is treated in several ways. The goal of the Heart Failure Treatment Center at Winthrop is to reduce symptoms and delay progression of the disease, reduce hospitalization, extend and improve the quality of life.
There are three main groups of drugs, which are used to treat heart failure: angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, diuretics and beta blockers.
  • ACE inhibitors help dilate arteries and lower blood pressure, and thus improve heart and circulation function.
  • Beta-blockers can improve the function of the left ventricle and may help prevent heart rhythm problems.
  • Diuretics keep fluid from building up in the body and decrease the amount of fluid in the lungs, which aids breathing.
    In selected cases, heart failure can be treated by surgery, such as valve replacement or repair, coronary artery bypass surgery, or even transplantation.
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259 First Street | Mineola NY 11501 | 516-663-0333


This site provides information as a resource. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
Always consult a physician or healthcare provider for treatment and guidance toward good health.
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