Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Are there different kinds of heart failure?

Ask the doctor

Are there different kinds of heart failure?

Q. Several years ago, a friend in my sewing circle was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. My doctor just told me I have heart failure. Are these the same condition or different ones?

A. You and your friend have the same problem: your hearts are having trouble pumping blood effectively. Doctors used to call it congestive heart failure, because many people with it had fluid buildup in the lungs (hence the "congestive") and legs. But others don't. That's why we now call it just heart failure.

This isn't to say that all heart failure is the same. There are two important types. In people with systolic heart failure, the heart muscle becomes stretchy and weak. People with diastolic heart failure have the opposite problem "" the heart muscle becomes too stiff and can't relax enough to completely fill with blood. The end result in both is a reduction in the amount of blood that each heartbeat pumps into circulation. An echocardiogram can reveal which type a person has.

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