The heart loses some of its blood-pumping
ability as a natural consequence of aging; however, a number of other
factors can lead to a potentially life-threatening loss of pumping
As a symptom of underlying heart
disease, heart failure is closely associated with the major risk
factors for coronary heart
disease: smoking, high cholesterol levels, hypertension
(persistent high blood pressure), diabetes and abnormal blood sugar
levels, and obesity. A person can change or eliminate those risk
factors and thus lower their risk of developing or aggravating their
heart disease and heart failure.
Among prominent risk factors,
hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes are particularly
important. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases the risk of
heart failure by 200 percent, compared with those who do not have
hypertension. Moreover, the degree of risk appears directly related to
the severity of the high blood pressure.
Persons with diabetes have about a two-
to eightfold greater risk of heart failure than those without
diabetes. Women with diabetes have a greater risk of heart failure
than men with diabetes. Part of the risk comes from diabetes'
association with other heart failure risk factors, such as high blood
pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol levels. However, the disease
process in diabetes also damages the heart muscle.
The presence of coronary disease is
among the greatest risks for heart failure. Muscle damage and scarring
caused by a heart attack greatly increase the risk of heart failure.
Cardiac arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, also raise heart failure
risk. Any disorder that causes abnormal swelling or thickening of the
heart sets the stage for heart failure.
In some people, heart failure arises
from problems with heart valves, the flap-like structures that help
regulate blood flow through the heart. Infections in the heart are
another source of increased risk for heart failure.
A single risk factor may be sufficient
to cause heart failure, but a combination of factors dramatically
increases the risk. Advanced age adds to the potential impact of any
heart failure risk.
Finally, genetic abnormalities
contribute to the risk for certain types of heart disease, which in
turn may lead to heart failure. However, in most instances, a specific
genetic link to heart failure has not been identified.
Click here for
symptoms of heart failure.