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What Are Causes and Common Risk Factors of Heart Failure?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2019

Heart failure is a chronic condition that is typically progressive (gets worse over time) and requires medications and lifestyle management. It is generally associated with age, but anyone can develop heart failure.1 The heart’s job is to pump blood throughout the body, supplying it with oxygen and nutrients while clearing away the waste. As we age, the pumping ability in our hearts decreases. Heart failure results from the impact of other health or medical conditions that have damaged the heart or make it work overtime. Lifestyle factors that increase the risk of heart attack and stroke also influence the development of heart failure.1

Risk factors of heart failure

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) a risk factor is any attribute, characteristic, or exposure of an individual that increases the chances of developing a disease or injury.2 Risk factors can include behaviors, exposure to chemicals, and environmental toxins as well. They also include things people cannot control, like age and family history.

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Smoking is a risk factor for lung and other cancers, obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, and a family history of some cancers could be another risk factor.3-4 The presence of risk factors can increase the likelihood (the statistical risk) that someone will develop a specific condition. Some of the risk factors for heart failure include age, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic factors. Others, like smoking or obesity, are risk factors that can be addressed, possibly reducing the risk for developing a condition like heart failure by taking preventive action.3

Causes of heart failure

A cause is something that makes a difference or produces an effect. It influences an outcome, an event, condition, or characteristic without which the disease would not have occurred. A cause of heart failure can be a past medical condition such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, or a prior heart attack.

Another type of cause is referred to as a comorbidity. This is the presence of 2 or more diseases or illnesses that affect one person at the same time. Examples of conditions that can cause heart failure include diabetes, severe lung disease, and certain kinds of cancer treatment. Comorbid conditions can make treating heart failure more complex and increase associated medical care costs. This is because multiple conditions have to be managed. The goal is to identify the most appropriate clinical treatments that will improve or stabilize both conditions, without causing either one to deteriorate or to develop a medication interaction.

When to seek medical care

It is important to discuss any symptoms and your past medical history with your health care team if you are being evaluated for heart failure. If you are experiencing sudden severe chest pain, severe shortness of breath, or fainting these could be life-threatening symptoms of a heart attack or lung problems, call 911 and seek emergency treatment.