What Is the Difference Between Left and Right Sided Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a general term used to describe the failure of the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively around the body. Heart failure can broadly be split into two types – Left and Right ventricular failure. First aid for heart failure

Left ventricular failure (LVF)

LVF is an acute life threatening condition. It occurs when the muscle of the left ventricle is strained and it may be the result of a heart attack. The strain on the muscle reduces the efficiency of the left ventricle so that there is backpressure into the left atrium and from there into the lungs. This leads to swelling in the lung tissues (pulmonary oedema) and resulting breathlessness

Signs and Symptoms of LVF

  • Severe breathlessness (sudden onset)
  • Anxiety
  • Cough producing frothy sputum (sometimes blood stained)
  • Excess sweating

First aid treatment

This is a medical emergency!

  • Call for advanced medical assistance
  • Sit the casualty upright – this will help with their breathing
  • Assist the casualty to use their own medication 
  • Monitor pulse, breathing and level of consciousness until help arrives

Right ventricular failure (RVF)

Unlike LVF this is a chronic condition, which usually develops slowly. It occurs when the right ventricle is strained and this leads to back pressure in the same kind of way but into the right atrium and the venous system. Oedema (swelling) is usually seen around the ankles but may be on the back if the casualty is in bed for long periods of time.

Signs and symptoms

  • Oedema (swelling) especially in the ankles, shins or lower back
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and distension
  • Lethargy and tiredness



This is a chronic condition which needs managing by a medical professional. 

John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid and CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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