The term "heart failure" can be frightening. It does not mean the heart has "failed" or stopped working. It means the heart does not pump as well as it should.
Heart failure is a major health problem in the United States, affecting about 5.7 million Americans. About 550,000 new cases of heart failure occur each year. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65.
If you have heart failure, you will enjoy better health and quality of life if you take care of yourself and keep yourself in balance. It is important to learn about heart failure, how to keep in good balance, and when to call the doctor.
What is the outlook?
With the right care, heart failure will not stop you from doing the things you enjoy. Your prognosis, or outlook for the future, will depend on how well your heart muscle is working, your symptoms and how well you respond to and follow your treatment plan.
What causes heart failure?
Heart failure can be caused by many medical conditions that damage the heart muscle. Common conditions are:
- Coronary artery disease (also called coronary atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries”) affects the arteries that carry blood and oxygen to the heart (coronary arteries). The normal lining inside the arteries breaks down, the walls of the arteries become thick, and deposits of fat and plaque partially block the flow of blood. Over time, the arteries become very narrow or completely blocked, which causes a heart attack. The blockage keeps the heart from being able to pump enough blood to keep your organs and tissues (including your heart) healthy. When arteries are blocked, you may have chest pain (angina) and other symptoms of heart disease.
- Heart attack. A heart attack happens when a coronary artery suddenly becomes blocked and blood cannot flow to all areas of the heart muscle. The heart muscle becomes permanently damaged and muscle cells may die. Normal heart muscle cells may work harder. The heart may get bigger (HF-rEF) or stiff (HF-pEF).
- Cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy is a term that describes damage to and enlargement of the heart muscle not caused by problems with the coronary arteries or blood flow. Cardiomyopathy can occur due to many causes, including viruses, alcohol or drug abuse, smoking, genetics and pregnancy (peripartum cardiomyopathy).
- Heart defects present at birth (congenital heart disease)
- High blood pressure (hypertension). Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels (arteries). If you have high blood pressure, it means the pressure in your arteries is higher than normal. When blood pressure is high, your heart has to pump harder to move blood to the body. This can cause the left ventricle to become thick or stiff, and you can develop HF-pEF. High blood pressure can also cause your coronary arteries to become narrow and lead to coronary artery disease.
- Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms, including atrial fibrillation)
- Kidney disease
- Obesity (being overweight)
- Tobacco and illicit drug use
- Medications. Some drugs used to fight cancer (chemotherapy) can lead to heart failure.
How common is heart failure?
Almost 6 million Americans have heart failure, and more than 870,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure each year. The condition is the leading cause of hospitalization in people over age 65.
Heart failure and aging
Although the risk of heart failure does not change as you get older, you are more likely to have heart failure when you are older.
Women and heart failure
Women are just as likely as men to develop heart failure, but there are some differences:
- Women tend to develop heart failure later in life compared with men
- Women tend to have heart failure caused by high blood pressure and have a normal EF
- Women may have more shortness of breath than men do There are no differences in treatment for men and women with heart failure.