In right-sided heart failure, the heart’s right ventricle is too weak to pump enough blood to the lungs. As blood builds up in the veins, fluid gets pushed out into the tissues in the body. Right-sided heart failure symptoms include swelling and shortness of breath. Treatment focuses on stopping progression of the disease and improving symptoms.
Right-sided heart failure is one type of heart failure. Right-sided heart failure is also called right ventricular (RV) heart failure or right heart failure.
The right side of your heart pumps “used” blood from your body back to your lungs, where it refills with oxygen. Right-sided heart failure means your heart’s right ventricle is too weak to pump enough blood to the lungs. As a result:
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The left side of your heart pumps fresh blood to the rest of your body through your circulatory system. The left ventricle is larger and stronger than the right because it has to pump blood through your whole body.
When people have left-sided heart failure, their heart's left side has to work harder to pump the same amount of blood. Left-sided heart failure is the most common cause of right-sided heart failure.
More than 6 million Americans have heart failure. Each year, more than 900,000 people receive a heart failure diagnosis.
Heart failure is rare in people younger than 50. With age, it becomes increasingly common. Studies have shown that around 2% of the population younger than 54 years old have heart failure. The number increases to around 8% — about 1 in 12 — for people over 75.
Most right-sided heart failure occurs because of left-sided heart failure. The entire heart gradually weakens.
Often, left-sided heart failure results from another heart condition, such as:
Sometimes, right-sided heart failure can be caused by:
People with advanced left-sided heart failure often end up with right-sided heart failure, too. When the left ventricle stops working efficiently:
The main sign of right-sided heart failure is fluid buildup. This buildup leads to swelling (edema) in your:
Other signs include:
Where you accumulate fluid depends on how much extra fluid and your position. If you’re standing, fluid typically builds up in your legs and feet. If you’re lying down, it may build up in your lower back. And if you have a lot of excess fluid, it may even build up in your belly.
Fluid build up in your liver or stomach may cause:
Once right-sided heart failure becomes advanced, you can also lose weight and muscle mass. Healthcare providers call these effects cardiac cachexia.
To diagnose heart failure, your healthcare provider will:
Your healthcare provider will test your heart function using:
To confirm a diagnosis of heart failure or rule out other conditions causing your symptoms, you may need:
Providers rarely need to do heart biopsies to diagnose heart failure.
Treatment is directed at the cause of your heart failure, and not all causes of right-sided heart failure are curable. But you can treat heart failure and improve your symptoms. Often, a combination of lifestyle changes, medications and heart devices can help you manage heart failure and live an active life.
Lifestyle changes can help improve your symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. Many people with mild heart failure enhance their quality of life by taking steps to:
Avoid or limit:
Stay on top of your health:
Cardiac rehabilitation, or rehab, is a program supervised by health professionals. It can help slow the progression of heart failure. Cardiac rehab usually includes:
Your provider will determine the right medication or combination of medications that will help you feel your best. These may include:
Your provider may also prescribe:
For severe heart failure, your provider may recommend:
If nonsurgical methods aren’t working, your provider may talk to you about surgery for heart failure. There’s no procedure specifically for heart failure. But sometimes providers identify a problem that surgery can correct. For example, surgery can repair a problem with your heart valve or coronary artery.
Heart failure surgery options may include:
You may not always be able to prevent heart failure. But you can sometimes treat conditions that cause heart failure.
If you treat these conditions early, you may be able to stop heart failure before it starts:
For many people, the right combination of therapies and lifestyle changes can slow or stop the disease and improve symptoms. They can lead full, active lives.
About 1 in 10 American adults who live with heart failure have advanced heart failure. That means treatments aren’t working, and symptoms are getting worse. You may feel symptoms, such as shortness of breath, even when you’re sitting. If you have advanced heart failure, talk with your care team about important care decisions and next steps.
The most important thing is to make healthy lifestyle habits part of your daily routine. The more you make healthy living part of your new lifestyle, the better you’ll feel. Try to:
If you have chest pains or suspect you may be having a heart attack, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
Get in touch with your healthcare provider if you experience:
If you have right-sided heart failure, ask your provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Right-sided heart failure means the right side of the heart can no longer pump blood efficiently. Fluid builds up in tissues, causing swelling. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms so the disease doesn’t worsen. Healthy lifestyle habits, along with cardiac rehab, improve symptoms for many people. Other treatment options include cardiac devices and surgery. If you have shortness of breath, swelling or chest discomfort, talk to your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/04/2021.
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