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How Are Right & Left Heart Diseases Different?

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right vs left heart disease differences infographic

This information was reviewed by Andrew Freeman, MD, and M. Patricia George, MD (February 2022).

How Are Right & Left Heart Diseases Different?

How the Heart Works

Two hearts in one, working together in a continuous loop:

  • A pump on the right.
  • A pump on the left.
  • An electrical system keeps your heart beating in a normal rhythm.

The right side of the heart picks up the oxygen-poor blood from the body and moves it to the lungs for cleaning and re-oxygenating.

The left side of the heart moves the re-oxygenated blood throughout the body so that every part receives the oxygen it needs.


What's the Difference?

Right-Sided Heart Disease (less common)

  • High blood pressure in the lungs
  • Blood clots in the lungs
  • Infections
  • Left-sided heart failure
  • Chronic lung diseases such as COPD, emphysema 

Right-sided heart disease increases pressure in the lungs and is a common cause of pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs).


Left-Sided Heart Disease (most common)

  • Coronary or heart artery disease (CAD)
  • Heart attack
  • Long-term high blood pressure

Left-sided heart disease decreases the ability to pump blood to the lungs for reoxygenation – causing blood to back up in the veins and the legs, ankles and abdomen to swell.


Symptoms of Heart Disease

Right-Sided Heart Disease

  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness, passing out with exertion


Left-Sided Heart Disease

  • Shortness of breath with exercise or when lying down
  • Sudden shortness of breath during sleep that wakes you


Both Right and Left Heart Disease

  • Shortness of breath with exercise
  • Palpitations
  • Coughing
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Swelling (abdomen, legs)
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty exercising
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, confusion


You Can Prevent Heart Disease

  • Quit smoking & avoid secondhand smoke
  • Keep other health conditions well managed
  • Do aerobic exercise and strength training daily
  • Eat fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, legumes, seeds & lean protein
  • Limit bad fats, sodium, sugar & fatty proteins
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce and manage stress
  • Get a good night’s sleep


Heart Disease Facts

  • Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the U.S.
  • About 50% of Americans have a form of heart disease
  • Most heart attacks happen on Monday
  • Women develop pulmonary arterial hypertension 2-3 times more often than men
  • 23.5 million people have sleep apnea, a cause of heart disease
  • 80% of heart disease and stroke are preventable
  • A person dies of heart disease every 36 seconds in the U.S.

Call 9-1-1 immediately when you are experiencing heart disease symptoms.