Potential Causes of Heart Failure

There are many conditions that may cause heart failure. How your heart failure is treated may depend on the underlying cause. That said, here is a list of potential causes.1

Potential causes

Advanced age.Sometimes the heart just gets worn down from years of service.1

Valvular. A problem may occur with one of the heart’s four valves. Heart valves may not open or close properly. This can cause the heart to have to work hard to pump blood through them. So, this may result in heart failure. There are many causes, such as infection, heart diseases, and heart attacks.2

Endocarditis. The endocardium is the inner lining of your heart. It also forms your heart valves. A bacteria may cause an infection here. This can cause damage to heart valves.2

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). Other names include ischemic heart disease and atherosclerosis. Coronary arteries are those arteries that feed your heart. Atherosclerosis is when fatty deposits and cholesterol build up along coronary artery walls. This makes their walls thicker than normal and arteries abnormally narrow. This obstructs the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. Left untreated this may lead to hypertension and increase the risk of heart attacks.2,5,6

Heart Attck (Mycaradial Infarction). This is caused by untreated CAD. The coronary artery becomes completely occluded. Heart tissues it feeds becomes necrotic and dies.

Ventricular Hypertrophy. This is when the ventricles of your heart become enlarged. As with any muscle, the heart muscle becomes enlarged when overworked. When you are working out your biceps this is a good thing. It makes your arm stronger. But a larger heart is a weaker heart. It can cause heart failure.

Hypertension. Prolonged and untreated high blood pressure can cause heart failure. This is because it means blood vessels are narrow. To pump blood through narrowed arteries, your heart must work harder. This can cause ventricular hypertrophy.

Lung Diseases. Severe lung diseases may cause areas of your lungs to receive less oxygen. When this happens blood vessels leading to these areas constrict (pulmonary hypertension). This causes your heart to work extra hard to pump blood through your lungs. Over time, this causes ventricular hypertrophy. Lung conditions that can do this include: COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, and cystic fibrosis.

Aortic Stenosis. The aorta is the large artery. All oxygenated blood from your heart travels through it. Stenosis means that it becomes abnormally narrow. Your heart must work harder to pump blood through the narrowed arteries. This causes ventricular hypertrophy.

Past Heart Attacks. Damage from past heart attacks can make heart muscle weaker. So, this can cause chronic heart failure.2

Systemic Diseases. There are many systemic diseases that may contribute to heart failure. Some of these include diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypothyroidism, and sarcoidosis. I can go over these conditions and explain how they may contribute to heart failure in a future post. For now, just know that these conditions don’t always lead to heart failure. It’s just that the possibility exists that they may.1,7

Idiopathic. This means the cause is something other than valvular, coronary occlusion, or systemic disease. The cause may be something that spontaneously occurs. The cause may remain generally unknown.1

Cardiomyopathy. This refers to a disease of the heart muscle itself. It is unable to contract properly. Diseases of the heart muscle can make your heart a weaker pump, therefore causing heart failure. It can be caused by various genetic, systemic, or heart diseases. One specific condition that may cause it is CAD.1

Chronic pericarditis. The pericardium is the sac that covers your heart. The space between your heart and this sac can become inflamed. This can in effect squeeze the heart making it a less effective pump.1,8

Pericardial tamponade. This is a rare but serious condition. It’s when fluid collects in the sac that covers your heart. It in effect squeezes your heart, making it a less effective pump. The treatment here is a pericardiocentesis. This is when a needle is inserted into the space to remove the fluid.1,9

Long-standing Tachy Arrhythmias. Some abnormal heart rhythms can make your heartbeat too fast. When this happens your heart has a hard time pumping enough blood with each beat. So, this can lead to heart failure. The good news is most heart arrhythmias that cause this are treatable.1

Congenital Heart Defects. These are diseases a person might be born with. It may be a problem with the heart itself. The chambers may be deformed. The aorta may be narrow. The valves may not function properly. I won’t list any specific conditions here as I plan on covering them in a future post.1,10

Renal Dysfunction (Kidney Disease). The kidneys filter blood. They also regulate salt and water, thereby controlling your blood pressure. Kidney dysfunction may cause blood pressure to increase in an attempt to increase blood flow to the kidneys. This is an attempt to get more oxygen to the kidneys, as they think that is the problem. As noted above, hypertension causes the heart to work harder, and this may lead to heart failure.1,11

Working with a doctor

So, that's quite a list. And there are many other potential causes not listed here. Still, this list covers the most common causes of heart failure.  What treatment works best for you may depend on the underlying cause. That is why it’s so important to work with a doctor to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

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