Right Ventricle Anatomy, Function, and Dysfunction: A Matter of the Heart

The heart has four chambers: the right ventricle and left ventricle on the bottom, and the right atrium and left atrium on top. Together, the four chambers pump blood through the body.

This article focuses on the heart's right ventricle and provides an overview of what it does.

Illustration showing the heart and the right ventricle.

SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

Right Ventricle Function

Just like there are four chambers in the heart, there also are four valves: the tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral, and aortic valves.

The right ventricle takes blood that does not yet have oxygen and pumps it to the lungs through the pulmonary valve. The lungs provide the blood with fresh oxygen.

The left atrium receives the oxygenated blood and pumps it to the left ventricle through the mitral valve. The left ventricle then pumps blood through the aortic valve to go to the rest of the body.

Complications and Defects

When the right ventricle does not function properly, it can cause a heart defect. There are several causes and complications associated with heart defects.

Congenital Defects

Congenital defects are problems that are present when someone is born. Some congenital defects in the heart involve right ventricle dysfunction.

Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia

Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia is a problem with the muscle tissue of the right ventricle that affects the electrical signals of the heart.

The condition can cause an irregular heartbeat because the muscle tissue dies and scar tissue grows in its place. The right ventricle may get larger, leading to problems pumping blood.

Symptoms of arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia include:

  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Heart failure

Sudden cardiac death can occur in people with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia—even in children and teen athletes with the condition who seem otherwise healthy.

There is no specific treatment for arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, but doctors can prescribe medications to help control heart rhythms and heart failure.

Double Outlet Right Ventricle

The aorta is the main artery that takes blood from your heart to the rest of your body. The aorta connects to the heart’s left ventricle, and the pulmonary artery is connected to the right ventricle.

If a person has a double outlet right ventricle, both the aorta and pulmonary arteries are connected to the right ventricle. This condition is considered a defect because the blood in the right ventricle has not yet received fresh oxygen from the lungs.

With a double outlet right ventricle, the blood is taken from the right ventricle to then flow through the rest of the body.

Having a double outlet right ventricle is associated with other heart defects, including mitral valve problems, pulmonary valve problems, and poor or no separation of the four chambers of the heart.

Some signs and symptoms of double outlet right ventricle include:

  • Fast breathing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Not gaining weight and growing
  • Poor feeding
  • Swollen legs or stomach area

The treatment for a double outlet right ventricle is surgery to help take blood from the left ventricle into the aorta. Sometimes, a person needs multiple surgeries for a double outlet right ventricle.

Pressure Overload

Pressure overload refers to excessive pressure on the heart muscle over time due to high blood pressure. It can lead to heart failure.

Volume Overload

Volume overload is another name for having too much fluid in the body. Heart failure, particularly in the right ventricle, can lead to volume overload. Volume overload is treated with a type of medicine called a diuretic.

Right Ventricular Function Assessment

Healthcare professionals will use several types of tests to figure out if a person has a problem with the right ventricle of their heart. The specific tests used depend on the problems a doctor is trying to rule out or diagnose.

Examples of tests that a doctor might use include:

  • Physical exam: A doctor listens to a patient’s heart and lungs to help them determine what type of heart problem might be present.
  • Cardiac catheterization: This test allows doctors to assess the pressure in your heart chambers. It is done with the use of a catheter, or small tube, placed in a blood vessel which threads to the aorta and heart.
  • Chest X-ray: An X-ray is taken of the chest to look at the heart and surrounding structures.
  • Echocardiogram or cardiac ultrasound: This test helps healthcare professionals see the heart’s structures and function.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This measurement of the heart’s electrical activity shows the pace and rhythm of the heartbeats.
  • Ejection fraction: This test measures how much blood is pumped from the right ventricle to the lungs to receive oxygen.
  • Oxygen saturation level: This measures how much oxygen is in the blood.

FAQs About Right Ventricle Function

What is the difference between the right and left heart ventricles?

The right ventricle of the heart receives blood that does not yet have oxygen, and from there it flows to the pulmonary valve and the lungs. In the lungs, it receives new oxygen.

The left ventricle pumps blood to the aortic valve. From there, the blood flows to the rest of the body.

What is the most common right ventricle dysfunction?

Pulmonary hypertension is the most common right ventricle dysfunction. Pulmonary hypertension is when blood pressure rises in response to changes in the lungs’ blood vessels, making it harder for the heart to pump blood into the lungs.

What are the symptoms of right ventricular dysfunction?

Right ventricular dysfunction can produce several symptoms. Some of the most common are:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Fainting during exercise
  • Fingers and lips with a bluish color
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in the feet and ankles

Can right ventricle function be increased?

It depends on the specific problem in the heart’s right ventricle. If you have a problem with your right heart ventricle, your doctor might prescribe certain medicines to help keep your heart rhythm under control.

Right ventricle dysfunction is usually a serious health problem. It’s important that you talk to your doctor and follow their physical activity, diet, and stress management recommendations.

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Article Sources
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  1. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia. Updated September 2018.

  2. National Library of Medicine. Double outlet right ventricle.

  3. Boston Children’s Hospital. Double outlet right ventricle.

  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Cardiac catheterization.

  5. Penn Medicine. Cor pulmonale (right-sided heart failure). Updated January 1, 2020.