How Common Is Heart Failure?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2022

Heart failure (HF) is a condition that develops when your heart can no longer pump enough blood and oxygen to your other organs. While it may sound dire, HF does not mean your heart has completely stopped beating.1

But HF is a serious and incurable condition that can get worse if it is not treated. You may have shortness of breath and a cough. You may feel extremely tired. Even simple activities like walking or climbing stairs can be hard to do.2

A global healthcare problem

Experts estimate that HF affects 64 million people around the world. Cardiovascular disease, which includes HF and other heart-related conditions, is the number 1 cause of death worldwide. In 2020, it caused more than 17.9 million deaths.2,3

How many people live with heart failure in the United States?

According to the American Heart Association, more than 6 million Americans have HF. Doctors diagnose over 900,000 people with the illness every year. Experts estimate that 1 in 5 adults over age 40 in the United States will develop HF at some point.4,5

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 4.6 percent of all adults in the US have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is a common risk factor for developing HF.6

In 2020, more than 696,000 people in the United States died of heart disease. That number equals 211 out of every 100,000 Americans.6

Who gets heart failure?

HF can happen to anyone. But certain groups of people are at an increased risk, particularly African Americans and Hispanic Americans.7

Research shows that African Americans are more likely to die from HF within 5 years of being diagnosed than any other racial group. High blood pressure that is not controlled is often the cause of HF in African Americans. Hispanic Americans tend to have more of the health conditions associated with HF – like diabetes and obesity – than white Americans.7

HF affects men and women equally. But women are more likely to die from HF than men. Women account for more than half of HF deaths in the United States.7

Having certain health conditions also raises a person's chances of developing HF. These conditions include:1,4,8

  • Coronary artery disease and other illnesses linked to heart disease
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Prior heart attack
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Severe lung disease
  • History of a heart murmur (valvular heart disease)
  • Heart muscle disease and enlargement of the heart (cardiomyopathy)
  • Family history of enlarged heart (familial cardiomyopathy)
  • Heart defects at birth (congenital heart disease)

If you have 1 or more of these illnesses, controlling them is important in warding off HF in the future.4

Symptoms of heart failure

There are several symptoms that are specific to HF. If you have any of the above risk factors, knowing these symptoms can save your life or a loved one’s life. Symptoms of HF can include:7,8

  • Fatigue
  • Getting tired easily
  • Shortness of breath from simple activities like walking or climbing stairs
  • Difficulty breathing when lying down
  • Waking up feeling out of breath in the middle of the night
  • Chest congestion
  • Frequent coughing, often producing mucus
  • Dry cough when lying flat in bed
  • Swelling of the feet, ankles, or legs (edema)

If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms, contact your doctor right away.

Reducing heart failure risk with lifestyle changes

The right treatment can slow the progression of HF or even prevent it. Adopting certain healthy lifestyle changes is an important part of treating HF. Experts suggest:1,8

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating foods lower in fat, cholesterol, and salt
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Limiting alcohol

Survival rates for heart failure

Around half of people with HF will die within 5 years of being diagnosed. But it is important to note that this number does not predict the health outcome of any 1 person. That person's overall health, including other health conditions, affects their life expectancy.6,9

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