Heart Failure Causes and Prevention

In most cases, heart failure develops slowly over time from long-term medical conditions, and in the early stage, may have no signs or symptoms.

Helpful Highlights

  • The best way to manage heart failure is to prevent it altogether.

  • There are people at higher risk than others for developing heart failure.

  • Some other medical conditions and events can cause heart failure.

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As heart failure progresses, the symptoms may range from mild to severe. Symptoms can be constant or come and go. While heart failure usually develops gradually over an extended period, it can also start suddenly after a medical condition, event, or injury to the heart muscle (such as a heart attack). 

What is CHF?

Heart failure — often known as congestive heart failure (CHF), which is left-sided heart failure and the most common type — is a serious and life-limiting condition wherein the heart doesn't pump blood as well as it should.*

Despite the name “heart failure”, it doesn’t mean that the heart has actually failed or is about to stop working.  It means that the heart muscle has weak contraction that limits its ability to eject blood.

This can cause blood to pool or back up in the heart, causing additional problems in the lungs and throughout the body, as well as furthering the heart's weakness.

With or without treatment, heart failure is progressive, meaning it gradually gets worse.  More than 5 million people in the United States have CHF. It’s the most common diagnosis in hospitalized patients over age 65.

*While left-sided heart failure is the most common type, right-sided heart failure does occur - and on rare occasions, before left-sided heart failure (such as in cases of pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the lungs). The left side of the heart pumps blood out to the body, and the right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs. Over time, left-sided heart failure can lead to right-sided heart failure.

Prevention

The surest way to prevent or delay heart failure is to prevent and control conditions that cause it.

Stop smoking (or don't start). Not smoking is the #1 action to improve health. Regarding heart failure, smoking is the major factor in arterial damage that causes it. Also, steer clear of secondhand smoke.

Make heart-healthy food choices. Heart-healthy foods are those that contain little saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and sodium (salt). Think fresh fruits and vegetables (not canned), low-fat dairy (milk and cheese), lean proteins such as chicken without the skin and fish (versus red meats and pork), and good fats such as those found in olive oil, fish, nuts, and avocados.

Lose weight. Along with diet, being physically active helps with weight loss and is also great for your heart. There are no fad diets or pills that work for weight loss. Weight loss requires lifestyle changes. The health plan has benefits available for sustainable weight loss.

Adhere to your existing cardiac program. If there is another active heart condition being treated, such as hypertension or coronary artery disease (a.k.a. heart disease), continue to adhere to that treatment regimen, and work with the provider to manage any other health conditions that increase your risk of developing heart failure (such as diabetes).

Who develops heart failure?

Who is more likely to develop heart failure?

Heart failure can happen at any age. It happens to both men and women, but men often develop it at a younger age than women. The chance of developing heart failure increases when:

  • 65 years or older

  • Have a family health history of heart problems

  • Have habits that can harm your heart, including:

    • Smoking

    • Eating foods high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium (salt)

    • Sedentary (inactive) lifestyle

    • High alcohol consumption (the plan provides for alcohol use disorder (AUD) screening)

    • Illicit drug use, regardless of route (swallowed, smoked, snorted, injected)

  • Have other medical conditions, including: 

    • High blood pressure (hypertension)

    • Lung disease

    • Infections, such as Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, COVID-19

    • Obesity

    • Diabetes 

    • Sleep apnea

    • Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

    • Anemia (of any type)

Medical conditions and events that can cause heart failure

  • Arrhythmia (a problem with the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat)

  • Cardiomyopathy

  • Congenital (at birth) heart defects or other types of heart conditions

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD)

  • Endocarditis

  • Heart attack

  • Heart valve diseases

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)

  • Vascular disease (venous or arterial)

  • A blood clot in your lung (pulmonary embolism or PE)

  • Diabetes

  • Lung disease (such as COPD)

  • Obesity

RESOURCES

American Heart Association (AHA) – Heart Failure

American Heart Association (AHA) – Classes & Stages of Heart Failure

2022 AHA/ACC/HFSA Guideline for the Management of Heart Failure

Caraballo, C., Desai, N.R., Mulder, H., Alhanti, B., Wilson, F.P., Fiuzat, M., et al. (2019). Clinical implications of the New York Heart Association classification. Journal of the American Heart Association, 8(23), e014240. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.119.014240

CDC – Heart Failure

Cleveland Clinic – Heart Failure

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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