What is Left-sided Heart Failure?
The left side of the heart brings oxygen-rich blood from the lungs through the left atrium to the left ventricle, then out into your body. When the left side of your heart is damaged or can’t pump as well, it has to work harder to send blood through your body.
This causes fluid to build up in your body, especially the lungs. That’s why shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms of heart failure.
With left-sided heart failure, you may have systolic or diastolic failure. Systolic failure happens when the heart doesn’t pump out blood the way it should. Diastolic means the heart doesn’t fill back up with blood as it should.
How common is Left-sided Heart Failure?
Left-sided heart failure is the most common type of heart failure. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of Left-sided Heart Failure?
The common symptoms of Left-sided Heart Failure are:
- Awakening at night with shortness of breath
- Shortness of breath during exercise or when lying flat
- Chronic coughing
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fluid retention causing swelling in the ankles, legs and/or feet
- Lack of appetite and nausea
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Sudden weight gain
As these symptoms occur, they cause the heart to try to pump harder, which causes further damage:
- Enlarged heart
- Rapid heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Less blood flowing to the arms and legs
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes Left-sided Heart Failure?
Left-sided heart failure causes can include:
- Cocaine use
- Coronary artery disease
- Heavy alcohol use
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
- Tobacco use
What increases my risk for Left-sided Heart Failure?
There are many risk factors for Left-sided Heart Failure, such as:
- Age: Men between the ages of 50-70 often experience left-sided heart failure if they have previously suffered a heart attack.
- Aortic stenosis: When the aortic value opening narrows, it slows blood flow and weakens the heart.
- Blood clots: A clot in the lungs can cause left-sided heart failure.
- Cardiomyopathy: Heredity can cause several types of this disease that can weaken or damage the heart.
- Congenital heart defects: Structural heart defects may prevent proper blood circulation from the heart.
- Chronic diseases: Diabetes, HIV, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or a buildup of iron or protein can lead to left-sided heart failure.
- Gender: Men are at greater risk of developing left-sided heart failure.
- Irregular heartbeats: Abnormal heart rhythms, especially if they are very frequent and fast, can weaken the heart muscle.
- Myocarditis: This condition occurs when a virus causes inflammation of the heart.
- Pericardial constriction: Inflammation causes the pericardium (a sac covering the heart) to scar, thicken and tighten the heart muscle.
- Previous heart attack: Damage to the heart muscle may affect its ability to pump blood effectively.
- Race: African-American men are at higher risk than others for developing left-sided heart failure.
- Some chemotherapy and diabetes medications: Certain drugs have been found to increase the risk of left-sided heart failure.
- Valvular heart disease: Damage or a defect in one of the four heart valves can prevent the heart from pumping blood effectively.
- Viral infection: Certain viral infections can damage the heart muscle.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is Left-sided Heart Failure diagnosed?
To determine if a patient has left-sided heart failure, we use advanced technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures and technologies can include:
Cardiac catheterization: A long, thin flexible tube is threaded through a blood vessel in the arm or groin and to the heart. Contrast material is injected through the tube and a type of X-ray video is taken to show how the heart functions and to look for heart blockages.
Chest X-ray: A common imaging test of the lungs, heart and aorta.
Echocardiogram: This ultrasound exam uses soundwaves to take moving pictures of the heart’s chambers and valves.
Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures the electrical activity of the heart and can help determine if parts of the heart are enlarged, overworked or damaged. The heart’s electrical currents are detected by 12 to 15 electrodes that are attached to the arms, legs and chest via sticky tape.
Electrophysiology study: This test records the heart’s electrical activities and pathways. It can help find what’s causing heart rhythm problems and identify the best treatment.
Radionuclide imaging (thallium stress test): This non-invasive procedure can identify if there is severe heart damage. A radioactive isotope is injected into a vein and a special camera or scanner records how it travels through the heart. Any heart damage can be plotted, locating the damaged area of the heart. This procedure can be done with an electrocardiogram, during both rest an exercise.
Treadmill Exercise Test with Peak V02: This test measures a patient’s capacity to exercise and the amount of oxygen the heart provides muscles during the test. Results reveal the severity of the left-sided heart failure and helps provide a prognosis. Following tests, a physician will use results to classify a patient’s heart failure. The four classes are based on the ability to do normal physical activities and the symptoms caused when doing those activities.
How is Left-sided Heart Failure treated?
Treatment for left-sided heart failure focuses on managing symptoms and treating underlying causes of the condition. An individualized plan of treatment may include medications, lifestyle changes, and surgery for a device implant, heart reconstruction or heart transplant. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatment can include:
Medications can improve cardiac function, and treat symptoms like heart rate, high blood pressure and fluid buildup, as they:
- Reduce fluid retention and the loss of potassium
- Open narrowed blood vessels to improve blood flow
- Reduce blood pressure and slow a rapid heart rhythm
- Increase blood flow throughout the body and reduce swelling
- Reduce fluid by promoting urination
- Prevent blood clots
- Lower cholesterol
A few changes in lifestyle can improve symptoms and the quality of life. It is essential to follow a low-sodium, low-fat and low-cholesterol diet. Gentle aerobic exercise is also recommended.
Surgery and Other Procedures
If medications are not effective in managing left-sided heart failure, or if symptoms are severe, surgery may be necessary. Depending on the condition of the heart and underlying cause of left-sided heart failure, surgeries options can include device implants, heart repair or heart transplant.
Device implant surgeries:
- Left ventricular assist device (LVAD) surgery: This device can be implanted to help a weak heart pump more efficiently, and can be a primary treatment or a temporary measure while awaiting a heart transplant.
- Pacemaker: This device can be implanted during minor surgery to help the right and left ventricle contract normally.
Heart repair or transplant surgeries:
- Congenital heart defect repair surgery: Repairing a heart defect can improve blood flow.
- Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG): This surgery creates a bypass around your narrowed coronary arteries by grafting arteries or veins taken from other parts of your body, which improves blood flow, stops chest pain and prevents a heart attack.
- Heart reconstruction surgery: Electric signals travel through a healthy heart, shaped like a football, causing it to contract. But heart damage enlarges and stretches the heart to be sharped more like a basketball, affecting electrical signals that make the heart pump less efficiently. Reconstructing the shape of the heart can improve its electrical signaling and functioning. Types of reconstruction include:
- Artificial heart valve surgery: Repair or replacement of a valve can reduce an enlarged heart and increase heart function.
- Dynamic cardiomyoplasty: A muscle from a patient’s back is detached and wound around the heart’s ventricles. The relocated muscle is programmed to beat like the heart’s muscle, which improves heart function and reduces stress on the heart.
- The Dor procedure: Stitching a widened artery (an aneurysm) of scarred tissue, caused by a previous heart attack, can shrink the dead area of the heart and help it regain a more shape.
- The Acorn procedure: A mesh-like sock placed over the heart is stitched into place to prevent the heart from enlarging.
- Heart transplant surgery: This surgery is done when all other left-sided heart failure treatments have failed. The damaged heart is surgically removed and replaced with a healthy heart from a deceased donor.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Left-sided Heart Failure?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Left-sided Heart Failure:
- Balance your blood sugar: If you have diabetes, watch what you eat and check your blood glucose regularly. Talk to your physician about medications that control blood sugar spikes.
- Be active: Moderate exercise helps circulation and decreases stress on your heart muscle.
- Eat a healthy diet: Limit salt, sugar, saturated fat and cholesterol; and eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
- Get regular checkups: And, if you experience new or changing symptoms or side effects from medications, see your physician.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight puts less stress on the heart.
- Reduce stress: Stress can contribute to a fast or irregular heartbeat.
- Reduce your alcohol intake: In some cases, you may need to stop drinking entirely. If you can drink, keep your intake low.
- Stop smoking: Smoking damages blood vessels, raises blood pressure, reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and makes the heart beat faster.
- Take your medications as prescribed: If you’ve been prescribed a medication for left-side heart failure or a causative condition, be sure to take it as prescribed.
- Weigh yourself daily: Monitor your weight for sudden gains that can indicate fluid retention.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Left Sided Heart Failure. https://www.baptisthealth.com/pages/services/heart-care/conditions/left-sided-heart-failure.aspx. Accessed May 22, 2018.
Different Types of Heart Failure: Left and Right Sided Symptoms. https://share.upmc.com/2015/06/difference-between-left-side-right-side-heart-failure/. Accessed May 22, 2018.
Review Date: August 17, 2018 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019