Heart failure is a complex condition with several possible causes. In some cases, more than one of these work together to cause heart failure.
Heart Failure and Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary Artery Disease develops when the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart become hardened and narrowed. The medical term for this is atherosclerosis but it is commonly referred to as the hardening of the arteries. It is the leading cause of death in the United States and is often preceded by angina.
Heart Failure and Heart Attacks
A heart attack is also known as a myocardial infarction. It occurs when an artery becomes completely blocked and halts the flow of blood to the heart. This is often due to a clot forming.
Heart Failure and Cardiac Arrest
Cardiac arrest is not a heart attack as is commonly believed. It is caused by a malfunction of the electrical system of the heart that causes the heart to beat so abnormally that it stops pumping blood. A defibrillator can be used to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm.
Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathy
Cardiomyopathy encompasses a range of diseases and problems that relate intrinsically to heart muscle. These include viruses, alcohol or drug abuse, metabolic diseases, genetic disorders, obesity, pregnancy and cancer treatments.
Heart Failure and High Blood Pressure
When blood pressure is high, the heart has to work harder to keep the blood circulating. This weakens the heart and can result in heart failure. People with high blood pressure have a two to three times greater chance of developing heart failure.
Heart Failure and Arrhythmia
An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm where the heart beats too fast, too slowly or irregularly. This may mean the heart cannot pump enough blood to sustain the body. Arrhythmia is often marked by a heartbeat of less than 60 or more than 100 beats per minute. It can be caused by coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and valve disorders. External causes include caffeine, smoking, alcohol, diet pills, cold medications, and shock or stress.
Heart Failure and Valve Disease and Infection
The heart has four sets of valves that ensure blood only flows in one direction through the heart. Valve disease is present when one or more of the valve pairs does not function correctly. This normally takes the form of an obstruction or leakage. People may be born with valve problems or they can occur as a result of infections such as endocarditis or rheumatic fever. Other causes include coronary heart disease, cardiomyopathy and high blood pressure.
Heart Failure and Congenital Heart Defects
These develop in-utero and affect one or more structures of the heart or its blood vessels. There are more than 30 different kinds of defects with varying degrees of impairment. The general result of congenital defects is the heart has to work harder, so putting the person at greater risk of heart failure.
Heart failure is a complex condition that may have one or several causes. Understanding the causes can help in its prevention, as can medical treatment, medication and change to lifestyle and diet.
The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Heart Failure, Randall C Starling, Kaplan Publishing, 2009