What Are Common Risk Factors of Heart Failure?

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

Heart failure is the most common cause of hospital admission for older adults and the incidence and prevalence of heart failure increase dramatically with age. Heart failure can develop from common cardiovascular conditions.1

A risk factor is an attribute, characteristic or behavior that increases the chances of developing a disease.2 They also include things people cannot control, like gender, age, and hereditary factors. Risk factors can increase the chance that you will develop a specific illness. Some of the risk factors for heart failure include age, race, ethnicity, family history and socioeconomic factors. Others like smoking or obesity are risk factors that can be addressed, possibly reducing the risk of developing a condition like heart failure by taking preventive action.1


Your health history can influence your risk for developing a wide range of conditions from arrhythmias and coronary artery disease to different types of cancer. Your genetic make-up can be passed down through generations. Knowing your family history can help you make healthy lifestyle decisions and can help your health care team in the diagnosis and treatment process; although some genetic changes happen randomly before birth. Congenital heart defects are conditions where the heart or blood vessels near the heart don't develop normally before birth. These are abnormalities, not diseases, but they are risk factors for the later development of heart failure.3

Older age

As we age, our bodies change. The combination of genetics and lifestyle can increase our risk for many different conditions, illnesses, and diseases. The heart is a muscle that is in continual use every minute of our lives. Over time, we all experience age-associated changes in cardiovascular structure and function. Some people have no noticeable change while others develop severe cardiac conditions. New cases of HF are common and strongly associated with age.1 Heart failure is often considered a geriatric syndrome, like dementia, osteoporosis, and falls.1

Demographics of heart failure

Where you are from and your economic circumstances can influence your chances of developing heart failure. HF occurs most frequently in the African American population, followed by Hispanic Americans, Caucasians, and Chinese Americans.1

Being African American or Black

Numerous studies have identified that being African American or black places you at greater risk of developing heart failure. There is an increased prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors in this population.1


Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States. Around half of the men who suddenly die from a heart condition had no previous symptoms.4 Men have a higher incidence of heart failure, but the overall prevalence rate is similar in both sexes. This is because women tend to live longer after developing heart failure. Women are generally diagnosed with heart failure at an older age and they more frequently have heart failure caused by high blood pressure with a preserved ejection fraction, called diastolic heart failure.5-6

Lower socioeconomic status (SES)

Economic deprivation – having less money and material benefits considered to be basic necessities in society - is associated with the development of heart failure.1 Income, occupation, and level of education are all components of lower socioeconomic status (SES) which have been shown to influence the risk of developing heart disease.

Smoking status

Worldwide, smoking (including second-hand smoke) is one of the top three leading risk factors for disease.7 Tobacco use is one of the largest preventable causes of death. Smoking affects the heart and blood vessels; it contributes to atherosclerosis. The chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage blood cells which affect the function and structure of the heart.8

Physical inactivity

According to a 2016 study, 26.9% of adults did not get enough physical activity. In the US, the prevalence of obesity among adults increased from 1999 to 2000 through 2013 to 2014 from 30.5% to 37.7%. Physical inactivity is often described as a sedentary lifestyle. Studies have shown that there are benefits for your heart and lungs of getting enough exercise.10

Routine exercise can help to lower some of the risk factors for heart disease, including a reduction in LDL cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and weight. Physical activity can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes as well as for heart failure.9 2 1/2 hours a week of exercise per week can help you maintain good overall and heart health.9 Try walking or running, dancing and swimming, yoga, and even working in the garden are all examples of physical activity that can help you look and feel good.10

Nutrition and social support

Eating healthy, nutritious foods and having social support are additional factors that can be protective against heart failure.

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