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Heart Failure and Your Heart

Once the heart has been injured, the body will attempt to compensate for reduced blood flow. Unfortunately, many of the countermeasures actually increase strain on the heart and further the development of heart failure. The heart, after suffering damage or being placed under physical stress by high blood pressure, will begin to change its own shape. This deforming of the ventricles’ shape is known as remodeling or hypertrophy. This remodeling occurs in two primary patterns – concentric and dilated (as shown below): These diagrams represent cross-sections of the left ventricle, the chamber that supplies the body with oxygenated blood flow. The triangular notches are cut into each ventricle to demonstrate how the wall has changed in shape and thickness. For comparative terms, the normal heart essentially looks like a football. When the wall thickens in concentric circles (lower left), the heart works less effectively and takes on the shape of a large fist. This may be caused by hypertension, a blocked aortic valve, or underlying genetics. Dilation of the ventricle walls (lower right) gives the weakened heart a beach-ball shape and an inefficient contraction. This prohibits blood from leaving the heart as it normally would. This remodeling pattern follows damage from a heart attack, sustained hypertension, viral infection, or genetic causes. Heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump blood to the body as quickly as needed. Blood returning to the heart faster than the heart can eject it congests the system behind it. Decreased blood flow to organs, such as the kidneys, causes the body to retain more fluid which complicates the problem further. The relationship between the heart and other organs can be a delicate one – once one is injured, it can send off a cascade of events that damage other organs and worsens heart failure.