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Heart Failure

What is heart failure?

Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, is a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough oxygenated blood to meet the needs of the body's other organs. The heart keeps pumping, but not as efficiently as a healthy heart. Usually, the heart's diminished capacity to pump reflects a progressive, underlying condition.

What causes heart failure?

American Heart Association Logo

Heart failure may result from any or all of the following:

  • Heart valve disease caused by past rheumatic fever or other infections
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Active infections of the heart valves and/or heart muscle (for example, endocarditis or myocarditis)
  • Previous heart attack(s) (myocardial infarction). Scar tissue from prior damage may interfere with the heart muscle's ability to pump normally.
  • Coronary artery disease. Narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle.
  • Cardiomyopathy or another primary disease of the heart muscle
  • Congenital heart disease or defects (present at birth)
  • Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
  • Chronic lung disease and pulmonary embolism
  • Certain medications
  • Excessive sodium (salt) intake
  • Anemia and excessive blood loss
  • Complications of diabetes

How does heart failure affect the body?

Heart failure interferes with the kidney's normal function of eliminating excess sodium and waste products from the body. In congestive heart failure, the body retains more fluid, resulting in swelling of the ankles and legs. Fluid also collects in the lungs, which can cause profound shortness of breath.

Resources

American Heart Association

Emmi Programs for Heart Conditions