Heart Failure Overview
Heart failure affects about 5 million Americans. Roughly 550,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure each year. It’s the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65.
What Is Heart Failure?
Heart failure doesn’t mean the heart has stopped working. It means the heart is less able to pump blood through the heart and body, and pressure in the heart goes up. As a result, the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body's needs.
The chambers of the heart may respond by stretching to carry more blood to pump through the body. They may become more stiff and thickened. This helps to keep the blood moving for a while, but in time, the heart muscle walls may weaken and would be unable to pump as strongly.
The kidneys respond by causing the body to retain water and sodium. If water builds up in the arms, legs, ankles, feet, lungs, or other organs, the body becomes congested, and congestive heart failure happens.
What Causes Heart Failure?
Heart failure is caused by many conditions that damage the heart, including:
Coronary artery disease
. Also called CAD, this is a disease of the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. It decreases blood flow to the heart muscle. If the arteries become blocked or very narrowed, the heart becomes starved for oxygen and nutrients and can’t pump as well.
. This may happen when a coronary artery becomes suddenly blocked, stopping the flow of blood to the heart muscle and damaging it. All or part of the heart becomes cut off from its supply of oxygen. A heart attack can damage the heart muscle. This leaves a scarred area that doesn’t function properly, causing your heart to not work as well.
. Damage to the heart muscle. Causes include artery or blood flow problems, infections, and alcohol and drug abuse. Other diseases or genetic issues can cause them, as well. Make sure your doctor knows your family's health history.
Conditions that overwork the heart. Things like high blood pressure, heart valve disease, thyroid disease, kidney disease, diabetes, or heart defects present at birth can cause heart failure. It can also happen if you have several conditions at once.