What Is a Right Sided Heart Failure? A Complete Guide

To understand right-sided heart failure, you need to know what heart failure is, what causes it, and how the heart works in the first place. First, you need to know that heart failure isn't the end – there are things that can be done to help get your heart pumping again like it's supposed to be.

What Is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a term that is generally used to describe a heart that is no longer pumping the way that it should be. There are all kinds of heart failure types and many different reasons why you might experience heart failure.

Some types of heart failure, like congestive heart failure, require quicker medical care than others. They are all reversible (usually) when discovered and treated in a timely manner. However, untreated heart failure of any kind can lead to an untimely death.

Heart failure is a condition that comes on progressively and is considered chronic. Your heart pumps blood and oxygen through your body, and when it isn't doing its work properly it can affect your entire body.

When your heart isn't pumping properly it will try to make up for that by getting bigger – as it works to contract more in enlargers and it develops excess muscle mass. An enlarged heart isn't healthy, and it's only masking the real issues.

Not only does your heart get bigger, but it also pumps faster, narrows the blood vessels (which keeps you from getting low blood pressure) and stops sending blood to certain organs and tissues. It pushes hard to keep pumping while slowing killing the rest of the body – essentially. The heart keeps pumping, but it also continues failing.

Man having a chest pain

What Your Heart Does and How It's Affected by Heart Failure

A healthy heart, about the size of a fist, pumps oxygen-filled blood throughout the circulatory system – blood that is essential in keeping your other organs working properly. Understanding how the heart works starts with knowing what the heart is made up of – which is four chambers (the atria are the two upper chambers, and the ventricle are the two lower ones).

The atrium located on the right pulls the oxygen-depleted blood from the body, sending it into the right ventricle, where it is oxygenated once again. Blood that is rich in oxygen then goes from the lungs through the left atrium and then the left ventricle before being pumped back through the rest of the body.

The heart's main role is to keep oxygen-rich blood pumping through the body to nourish all of the cells, and, of course, the organs. When the heart is failing, this stops happening. The results of not getting enough oxygenated blood through the body include a shortness of breath, coughing, and fatigue. These are things you'll likely notice when doing even the simplest of daily chores or walking up the stairs.

Heart failure is a common occurrence and begins to happen to people as they get older (usually 65+), though it's not reserved just for older folks. If heart issues are common in your family, you could possibly start to experience problems at a younger age as well.

Left-sided and Right sided Heart Failure

Heart failure usually happens on one side of the heart – the left side or the right side. Which side of your heart is affected can determine which side effects you'll begin to notice first. Once one side of your heart begins experiencing failure, the other side can start to have issues too, especially if you don't get it taken care of in a timely manner.

If you have left-sided heart failure, your heart is no longer able to pump the required amount of oxygenated blood through your body. When you have right sided heart failure, it means the chamber on the right is no longer able to pump. This makes it so that your heart isn't getting enough blood and starts filling the veins up because of the back-up (think of the plumbing in your house when something gets back up and a pipe bursts).

Man having a chest pain

What Causes Right Sided Heart Failure?

Normally the first side of the heart to go is the left side, and it is that failure that leads to right sided heart failure. That's not always the case, though. Here are some of the causes of right sided heart failure.

1. Arrhythmia

An irregular heartbeat, also known as arrhythmia, is an essentially harmless heart condition that can lead to bigger problems when left untreated at length. That irregular pumping can weaken your heart over a period of time because it isn't able to move enough blood through the body.​


Coronary artery disease is the most common culprit when it comes to the onset of heart failure. This disease is caused by plaque found blocking the arteries. Because of this blockage blood isn't able to flow to the heart or flows slowly.


Heart diseases don't only affect older people – some people can be born with heart defects. Babies born with congenital heart defects have an increased risk of heart failure, even at a very young age.


The valves of your heart are what keep the blood flowing to and from (in the proper direction), so when there is damage to a valve it can make the hearts work harder, which can weaken it. Some reasons for damage to the heart valves include defects in the heart and infections.


You might think that your high blood pressure isn't really a big deal, but it can do more than just increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. When your blood pressure is high it means that your heart is working harder to pump blood through it – the harder it works, the thicker and weaker it gets. Keeping blood pressure in check can be done through prescription medications, weight loss, a healthy diet, and exercise.


Issues that directly affect the health of your heart aren't the only ones that can cause heart failure over time. Lung disease can also make it so that the right side of the heart enlarges and begins to fail. This is called cor pulmonale.

Even illness such as diabetes, thyroid issues, and HIV can have a role in leading to heart failure.

What Are the Symptoms of Right Sided Heart Failure?

Man experiencing stomach ache

There are many things that can give you a heads-up to the fact that there might be something wrong with your heart. Some of these symptoms could be a sign of other health problems, but they can also be a clear indication of heart failure.

  • Swelling in Lower Extremities – You may experience swelling in your feet, ankles, and legs. This is caused by the blood backing up in your veins, which is referred to as edema.
  • Distended stomach – If your veins are extremely backed up with blood, and it has gotten into your liver and your stomach, you may notice some distension in your abdominal area.
  • Increased urination – The buildup of fluids in your body can make you need to urinate more often.
  • Difficulty breathing – As your heart weakens more, you will notice that it can become difficult to breathe and you'll experience a shortness of breath.
  • Feeling fatigued – Another common sign of heart failure is fatigue. Your body is being worn down not only by your heart working overtime but also by the lack of oxygenated blood flowing through it.

There are other symptoms that come about when your heart failure is worsening. These can include a swelling of the veins in your neck, chest pains, loss of appetite, weight gain, and confusion.

Silhouette of two man running

Treatments for Right Sided Heart Failure

While there is no cure, heart failure symptoms can be treated to help you live a more prolonged life with fewer symptoms. Medications can help increase your comfort, and sometimes surgery can help make your heart work closer to normal again.

Reducing the stress on your heart is the key to living longer with heart disease, however. You should follow these tips in order to have a healthier heart before heart failure begins and even after a heart disease diagnosis.

  • Exercise regularly, and take off excess weight
  • Eat a healthy diet that is rich in vegetables and whole grains
  • Reduce intake of sodium
  • Stop smoking
  • Get plenty of sleep

Final Thoughts on Right Sided Heart Failure

All humans are at risk of heart failure. If you want to lower your risk of right sided heart failure, take care of your body and be sure to visit your doctor for regular physicals.

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