Dr.Kamini Silvarajan MD/AAAM

Editorial Board: Kamini Silvarajan MD/AAAM

Heart Failure Types

Doctors in emergency room working on unconscious patient

There are 3 main categories of heart failure — dilated cardiomyopathy (cardiomyopathy is a term that means heart muscle disease), hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and diastolic dysfunction. Once you are sure which category of heart failure you have, you can read below to learn more about your condition.

Dilated cardiomyopathy

- is the most common variety of heart failure; most people who are told they have heart failure have dilated cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy is the end result of a large variety of heart diseases, especially coronary artery disease and valvular heart disease.

This type of heart failure occurs when the ventricles (the large pumping chambers of the heart) become weakened, flaccid and dilated. As a result, the pumping action of the heart becomes weak, the amount of blood pumped with each heart beat drops (or, to say it another way, the ejection fraction is reduced), and the body’s organs may not receive their full quotient of blood. 

Pressures inside the heart increase, causing fluid to “back up” in the lungs, producing lung congestion — a condition often called congestive heart failure. Cardiac arrhythmias — including some life-threatening ones — are common in patients with dilated cardiomyopathy. The outcome of a patient with dilated cardiomyopathy is strongly dependent on whether they receive the therapies that have been proven to reduce symptoms and prolong survival.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

- is normally a genetic condition, and always runs in families. It is characterized by a thickening of the heart muscle, resulting in “stiff” ventricles. The stiffness impairs the filling of the heart, and can lead to episodes of extreme shortness of breath in some patients, especially during exercise. The thickening of the heart muscle also can cause an obstruction in the left ventricle similar to that seen with aortic stenosis. And some patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy have an increased risk of sudden death.

Diastolic dysfunction

- is similar to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in that it is caused by a “stiffening” of the heart muscle, leading to impaired filling of the heart. But unlike hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, diastolic heart failure is often not accompanied by thickening of the heart muscle, and is not thought to be a genetic disorder. It tends to occur in older individuals, often in women, and often in people with high blood pressure. It is characterized by relatively sudden episodes of severe shortness of breath due to lung congestion.

Once you have been told you have heart failure, the best thing you can do to aid yourself is to learn all you can about your condition.