What is the difference between right & left sided heart failure?

Dropping off carbon dioxide and picking up and pumping oxygenated blood throughout the body is essentially the process of a well-functioning heart. Consequences are different in right- and left-sided heart failure.

Normal Anatomy

The anatomy of the heart consists of four chambers, two on the right and two on the left: the two upper chambers are called the atria, (one is an atrium), the two lower chambers are called ventricles. The American Heart Association (AHA) explains how the right side of the heart receives blood from the body and becomes a "holding tank" for oxygen-depleted blood. When full, the right ventricle pumps the blood to the lungs. The blood drops off carbon dioxide, picks up fresh oxygen and sends it to the left side of the heart.

Heart Failure

"Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood through the heart to meet the body's needs for blood and oxygen. Basically, the heart can't keep up with its workload," according to the AHA.

Left Heart Failure

The AHA reports two types of left-sided heart failure. Systolic failure is when the left ventricle loses its ability to contract normally. The heart can no longer pump with enough force to push the blood into the body. Diastolic failure is when the left ventricle loses the ability to relax between beats, so that the heart can't fill properly.

Right Heart Failure

Right-sided or right ventricular (RV) heart failure occurs when the left ventricle fails to accept blood causing an increased fluid pressure allowing the blood to backwash into the lungs, ultimately damaging the heart's right side. When the right side loses pumping power, blood backs up in the body's veins. This usually causes swelling in the legs and ankles according to the AHA.


Eventually the heart and body can no longer maintain. The individual begins to experience fatigue, breathing problems or pain warranting a trip to their physician or emergency room.

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About the Author

Based in Atlanta, Valerie Liles has been writing about landscape and garden design since 1980. As a registered respiratory therapist, she also has experience in family health, nutrition and pediatric and adult asthma managment. Liles holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University and a Master of Science in technical communication from the University of Colorado.