Congestive Heart Failure: Types & Stages

woman holding heart model

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a serious and chronic condition which affects up to 6 million Americans. The condition occurs when the heart becomes weak or damaged and is no longer able to efficiently pump blood to the rest of the body. As the kidneys receive less blood, they are able to filter out less fluid. In turn, the body begins to retain this fluid, which may build up in the lower extremities, in the abdomen, around the liver, and around the lungs. This "congestion" of fluid gives CHF its name.

What are the Different Types of CHF?

Heart failure can occur on the left side of the heart, the right side, or both. Most commonly, it begins in the heart's primary pumping chamber - the left ventricle. Each specific type of CHF is accompanied by its own distinct characteristics:

  • Right-sided CHF - Right-sided CHF develops when the right ventricle struggles to deliver blood to the lungs. As blood backs up into the blood vessels, the body begins to retain fluid in the abdomen and lower body.
  • Left-sided CHF - Left-sided CHF is the most common form of CHF and begins when the left ventricle cannot effectively deliver blood throughout the body. Eventually, this can lead to fluid retention throughout the body, particularly around the lungs.

Cases of left-sided CHF can be further classified into one of two sub-types, characterized by the manner in which the ventricle is affected:

  • Systolic CHF - Systolic CHF occurs when the left ventricle is unable to contract with enough force to circulate blood properly.
  • Diastolic CHF - Diastolic CHF occurs when the heart muscle becomes stiff. Because the chamber must relax in order to fill with blood between contractions, this stiffness means that an inadequate amount of blood is available to pump out to the rest of the body.

What are the Stages of CHF?

Congestive heart failure is a progressive condition that can worsen over time. Depending on the severity of CHF and its associated symptoms, cases are classified into one of four potential categories:





No notable symptoms

Stage I CHF can typically be managed through lifestyle modifications and medicaiton.


Physical activity may lead to symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

Management of Stage II CHF is very similar to Stage I but may require more careful monitoring.


Any physical activity is likely to result in notable symptoms, more severe than Stage II.

Treatment of Stage III CHF is far more complicated than lower stages.  Consult with a cardiologist to learn more.


Symptoms are always present, even while at rest.  Physical activity is likely not possible.

Stage IV CHF has no cure, but there are options available to increase patient comfort.  Speak with a cardiologist to learn more.


Treating CHF in Louisiana

For patients suffering from CHF, skilled medical treatment is critical to managing the condition and maintaining health. Cardiovascular Institute of the South is home to many renowned and respected cardiologists. Our physicians are experienced and highly-qualified in the treatment of congestive heart failure, along with all other forms of cardiovascular disease. To request an appointment at any one of our locations across south Louisiana and Mississippi, click the button below.

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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff