Heart Failure

Causes and Risk Factors

Heart failure is caused by other diseases or conditions that damage the heart muscle such as coronary artery disease (including heart attacks), diabetes, and high blood pressure. Treating these problems can prevent or improve heart failure.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is a leading cause of death in men and women. It happens when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become hardened and narrowed.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can weaken your heart and lead to plaque buildup, which can then lead to heart failure.


Diabetes is characterized by having too much glucose, or sugar, in the blood for a long time. This can cause heart problems because high blood glucose can damage parts of the body such as the heart and blood vessels. This damage weakens the heart, often leading to heart failure.

Other Diseases

Other diseases and conditions also can lead to heart failure, such as

  • Cardiomyopathy (KAR-de-o-mi-OP-ah-thee), or heart muscle disease. Cardiomyopathy may be present at birth or caused by injury or infection.
  • Heart valve disease. Problems with the heart valves may be present at birth or caused by infection, heart attack, or damage from heart disease.
  • Arrhythmias (ah-RITH-me-ahs), or irregular heartbeats. These heart problems may be present at birth or caused by heart disease or heart defects.
  • Congenital (kon-JEN-ih-tal) heart defects. These problems with the heart's structure are present at birth.

Other Factors

Other factors also can injure the heart muscle and lead to heart failure. Examples include

  • treatments for cancer, such as radiation and chemotherapy
  • thyroid disorders (having either too much or too little thyroid hormone in the body)
  • alcohol abuse or cocaine and other illegal drug use
  • too much vitamin E.

Sleep Apnea

Heart damage from obstructive sleep apnea may worsen heart failure. Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep.

Sleep apnea can deprive your heart of oxygen and increase its workload. Treating this sleep disorder might improve heart failure.

Who Is at Risk?

Heart failure can happen to almost anyone. It is the number one reason for hospitalization for people over age 65.

Heart failure is more common in

  • people who are 65 years old or older
  • African-Americans
  • people who are overweight
  • people who have had a heart attack
  • men.

Aging can weaken the heart muscle. Older people also may have had diseases for many years that led to heart failure.

African Americans are more likely to have heart failure than people of other races. They're also more likely to have symptoms at a younger age, have more hospital visits due to heart failure, and die from heart failure.

Excess weight puts strain on the heart. Being overweight also increases your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These diseases can lead to heart failure.

A history of a heart attack puts people at greater risk for heart failure.

Men have a higher rate of heart failure than women.