Common Causes of Heart Failure

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Heart failure means your heart isn't pumping as well as it should. It's getting weaker. Your heart has trouble supplying the rest of your body with the oxygen it needs. Heart failure comes on gradually. What causes congestive heart failure and are you at risk? 

Heart failure is more common in people 65 years and older. People who've had a heart attack are at risk of heart failure. So are people who are overweight because excess weight makes your heart work harder. Other common conditions and lifestyle habits can put you at risk.

Three common conditions are the most congestive heart failure causes:

  • Coronary artery disease (heart disease). Heart disease stems from the buildup of a waxy substance called plaque inside your coronary arteries. They're the blood vessels that bring blood to your heart muscles. When the heart muscles don't get enough oxygen from blood, the heart may start to weaken. Heart failure can result. If plaque builds up enough to block blood flow, you could have the chest pain called angina.

  • Diabetes. This disease makes it hard for your body to use the glucose (sugar) that's in the foods you eat. The sugar can build up in your blood. High blood sugar levels can damage your heart muscles and blood vessels. Both can lead to heart failure.

  • High blood pressure. This is a buildup of pressure inside the arteries. More pressure means more work for your heart. This extra work can lead to weakening and heart failure.

If you have any of these conditions, work with your doctor to get them under control. Lifestyle changes and possibly medication should help.
Heart failure has other causes too. They're just less common. They include:

Reducing Your Risk of Heart Failure

Heart failure can often be prevented. Even people at high risk can make it less likely they'll develop heart failure. These steps can help:

  • Do not abuse drugs or alcohol.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Include lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit salt. Avoid foods and drinks with added sugar. Stay away from foods high in saturated fats.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
  • Stay physically active. Try to get some exercise on most days.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Aug 25
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. About Heart Failure. American Heart Association.

  2. Who Is at Risk for Heart Failure? National Institutes of Health.

  3. What Causes Heart Failure. National Institutes of Health.

  4. How Can Heart Failure Be Prevented? National Institutes of Health.

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