Essentially, everyone is at risk of heart failure because aging is a risk factor. Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization of people who are 65 years of age or older. Beyond this, certain conditions can greatly increase your risk for heart failure. Other risk factors for heart failure can be stopped, controlled or slowed with treatment and careful management.
Heart failure is a condition in which your heart muscle is no longer able to pump enough blood to meet your body tissues’ needs for oxygen and nutrients. Shortness of breath and fatigue are common symptoms, among others. In most cases, there is no cure for heart failure. However, it can often be managed to improve quality of life.
If you have the following conditions, you are at high risk for heart failure.
Coronary Artery Disease or Prior Heart Attack
In coronary artery disease, a fatty substance called plaque that is made up of cholesterol, calcium and other materials, embeds in the walls of the arteries that carry blood to your heart muscle. Researchers now think this process is a result of inflammation of the artery wall, which allows the plaque to build up. Plaque deposits narrow the blood flow through the arteries, causing your heart muscle to have to work harder, which over time causes it to thicken or stiffen. This can lead to heart failure.
Coronary artery disease is the disease process that causes a heart attack. Vulnerable plaque deposits in the arteries can rupture, and a blood clot can form at the rupture site, cutting off blood flow through the artery and starving the heart muscle of the oxygen-rich blood it requires. Without blood supply, the heart muscle tissue can be damaged and begin to die. In heart attack survivors, damage to the heart muscle can cause the heart to have to work harder to pump enough blood and lead to heart failure.
You can learn more about coronary artery disease here.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Blood pressure is a measure of the force with which blood pumps against artery walls. If this force is too high, the artery walls and heart muscle can be damaged. High blood pressure usually does not have any symptoms, so damage to the arteries and heart muscle can occur for years before the condition is diagnosed in patients who do not regularly see a doctor. Damage to the heart muscle from hypertension can eventually impair the heart’s ability to pump and lead to heart failure.
Click here to learn more about high blood pressure.
Diabetes is a condition in which your body cannot properly metabolize sugar from digested food (glucose). In a person without diabetes, consumed food is broken down into glucose and the body responds by producing the hormone insulin, which allows the glucose to travel into your body’s cells. However, in diabetes, the body does not create enough insulin or the cells are resistant to it. Over time, too much glucose circulating in the bloodstream damages the arteries and heart muscle. Additionally, patients with diabetes are likely to have inflammation that can damage their arteries and are more prone to blood clots, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. Long-term damage to the cardiovascular system from diabetes can contribute to heart failure.
To learn more about diabetes and cardiovascular disease, click here.
Congenital Heart Disease
Structural problems with the heart that are present at birth (congenital heart disease) can prevent the heart from pumping oxygen-rich blood properly throughout your body. These defects may be present in the heart muscle or the valves that regulate blood flow through the heart’s chambers. There are many forms of congenital heart disease—ranging from some that do not require treatment to serious defects that must be treated immediately to save a baby’s life. Some congenital heart defects may not be discovered until adulthood.
To learn more about congenital heart disease, click here.
The conditions listed above are the most common causes of heart failure. To learn about additional risk factors for heart failure, click here. Risk factors are managed with a combination of surgical or interventional treatments, medication and lifestyle changes. The best course of treatment will be determined in conversations with your doctor.