What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?
Any disease or condition which weakens or damages the heart muscle is also known as congestive heart failure (CHF) or cardiomyopathy. Conditions which can weaken the heart include:
Most Common Causes
1. Coronary heart disease (CHD), sometimes referred to as coronary artery disease (CAD). CHD/CAD is more likely to be a cause of heart failure in men than women.
2. Chronic (long-standing) high blood pressure (hypertension).
Less Common Causes
1. Diabetes mellitus.
2. Persistent abuse of alcohol or cocaine use.
3. Side effects of radiation therapy or chemotherapy treatment, the medications can sometimes damage the heart muscle.
4. Mechanical problems of the heart such as heart valve disease.
5. Previous heart attacks which have damaged the heart muscle.
6. Heart arrhythmia, where the heartbeat has been abnormally fast for long periods of time.
7. Defects present at birth (congenital heart defects).
8. Viral infections of the heart.
9. Family history of heart failure.
10. Long-term obesity.
11. Unknown (idiopathic) progressive decline of the heart muscle. Where there is no clear cause - although in the future a genetic disorder may yet be identified.
1. In pregnancy a rare complication which occurs directly after childbirth can cause heart failure. It is thought to be related to disturbances in the mother's immune system from the fetus.
2. Rare forms of cancers which result in large levels of protein being deposited in the heart. These include rare leukemias, lymphomas and amyloidosis and cancers such as multiple myeloma.
3. Nutritional deficiencies, lack of certain vitamins such as selenium and thiamine over long periods of time can cause heart failure.
4. Heart failure due to muscle disorders like muscular dystrophy. Just as these disorders can affect the muscles of the legs and arms they can also reduce the function of the heart muscle.
In A Nutshell
Anything that damages the heart muscle can cause heart failure. Today, people are living much longer than ever before and they are surviving conditions which over time stress the heart. Although the direct cause of CHF in any individual case may be hard to pinpoint, it is likely that one or more of the above mentioned conditions are present. Although there is not usually a cure for CHF, treatment of heart failure can still help people enjoy a satisfying quality of life for many years. Medications and changes in lifestyle go a long way to reducing the symptoms of heart failure.
Are There Different Causes In Men and Women?
Yes, heart failure is more likely to be due to chronic hypertension in women but due to CHD in men. There are 2 phases to the pumping action of the heart. The first is called the systole phase, where the heart muscle squeezes and pumps blood through the arteries. In the second phase (diastole), the muscles relax, allowing the heart to fill with blood, ready to begin a new cycle. Symptoms of coronary heart disease tend to cause damage to the heart's systolic function, so men are more commonly diagnosed with systolic heart failure. High blood pressure on the other hand stiffens the heart muscle, affecting its ability to relax, and thus can lead to diastolic heart failure. Women who receive a diagnosis of heart failure are more likely to be diagnosed with the diastolic type. For more questions on heart health, visit our section womens health questions.
Who Develops It?
An estimated 5.8 million Americans have heart failure and each year 670,000 more are diagnosed. Statistically the most common causes are CHD, high blood pressure and diabetes. The incident rate is increasing, possibly because people are living longer and due to medical advancements are living with heart disease, although their heart has be damaged. Heart failure most often occurs in the elderly, about 80 percent of cases are in people over the age of 70. The vast majority of these patients are women with high blood pressure, probably because men are more likely to die of CHD before it progresses to heart failure. CHF in younger people is more likely to be the result of alcohol or drug abuse (such as cocaine or amphetamines), or an inherited heart defect.
• 75 percent of CHF cases are linked to chronic high blood pressure.
• The average American has a 1 in 5 chance of developing heart failure by the age of 40.
• Having high blood pressure (160/90 mm Hg) doubles your risk.
• 1 in 5 CHF patients die within a year of diagnosis.
For more statistics, see Heart disease statistics and UK heart disease statistics.