Heart Failure Terminology

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Heart failure is defined as the failure of the heart to pump out enough blood for circulation to the various parts of the body. The cardiac output becomes insufficient for meeting the body's requirements.

Some of the terms used in the context of heart failure include:

Cardiac output
This refers to the amount of blood pumped out by the heart over a 1-minute time interval.

Stroke volume
This is the volume of blood pumped out by the heart on one contraction.

Venous return
This is the blood that returns from the body via the veins into the heart.

Systole
This is the contraction of the heart that pumps out blood.

Diastole
This is the period between two systolic contractions when the heart expands to allow blood to pool before it can be pumped out.

Preload
This refers to the amount of blood that fills the ventricle before systole occurs.

Afterload
This is the resistance against which the heart has to pump blood.

Congestive heart failure
This is a condition that develops when the cardiac output is low and the heart fails to pump enough blood to oxygenate and nourish the body. The heart chambers may stretch to hold and pump more blood which can eventually weaken the heart muscles which then pump less efficiently. Kidneys may induce the body to retain water and fluid may build up in the arms, feet, legs and organs causing congestion.

High output cardiac failure
This is a condition where the body's requirements are more than can be provided for by the heart's pumping capacity. This occurs with conditions such as severe anemia, severely overactive thyroid, gram negative septicaemia, arteriovenous fistula, vitamin deficiency and Paget's disease.

Acute heart failure
This refers to the acute or sudden onset of heart failure.

Chronic heart failure
This progresses and worsens over time.

Acute left ventricular failure
This refers to a sudden failure of the left ventricle leading to congestion in the lungs and shortness of breath on exertion or even while resting.

Backward failure or right-sided failure
This is the failure of the right ventricle that leads to an excess accumulation of fluid in the body and edema, called anasarca. This usually causes the feet and legs to swell up first. The liver may become enlarged and blood coagulation problems may manifest.

Biventricular failure Failure of both sides of the heart.

Acute decompensated heart failure
This refers to an episode of acute heart failure in a person who already has long-term chronic heart failure.

Cardiac arrest
Also known of as asystole, this refers to when the heart completely stops and does not pump blood at all.

Cardiomyopathy
This describes the deterioration of the heart muscles which can lead to heart failure. The most common type is dilated cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscles become dilated and fail to contract normally.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Nov 18, 2013

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