Heart Failure

Causes/Risk Factors

Over time the heart muscle weakens.  This happens to every person as they age.  However, there are conditions and behaviors that increase ones risk of heart failure.  The cause of heart failure can often be traced back to certain factors.  These factors can expedite the weakening of the heart muscle, increasing the risk of heart failure.  The causes of heart failure include:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Past heart attacks
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Abnormal heart valves
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Large salt intake
  • Obesity
  • Heavy drug or alcohol use
  • Heart muscle inflammation or disease
  • Congenital heart disease (a heart defect present at birth)
  • Lung disease
  • Diabetes
  • Severe anemia
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Kidney impairment
  • Abnormal heart rhythm

Signs and Symptoms

In general, heart disease develops slowly over time.  The above factors will, over a period of time, weaken the heart, leading to the failure of the heart muscle.  When this occurs hear failure is categorized as a chronic, long-term ailment or disability.  However, acute heart failure does occur as well.  Below are some of the signs and symptoms of both chronic and acute heart failure.  This list is meant as a general guide.  Please consult a physician immediately if you suffer from any of the following symptoms:

Chronic heart failure:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath when exercising or lying down
  • Decreased ability to exercise
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or abdomen (edema)
  • Sudden weight gain (fluid retention)
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Lack of appetite and/or nausea
  • Decreased awareness or difficulty concentrating

Acute heart failure:

  • All of the above symptoms that occur suddenly and with more intensity
  • Sudden fluid retention
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat that may cause to the heart to stop beating
  • Sudden shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus
  • Chest pain (if caused by a heart attack)


Most treatments for heart failure are meant to prolong the sufferer’s life and decrease their symptoms.  However, depending on the causes of the heart failure treatments may correct the failure entirely. 

For most a balance of the correct medications, changes in lifestyle and possible medical procedures are sought in an effort to improve survival rates and quality of life.  The following is a list of some of the more common treatments of heart failure:


  • ACE inhibitors (Angiotensin-converting enzyme)
  • ARBs (Angiotensin II receptor blockers)
  • Digoxin (Lanoxin)
  • Beta blockers
  • Diuretics
  • Aldosterone antagonists

Surgery and medical devices:

  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators
  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT)
  • Biventricular pacing
  • Heart pumps
  • Heart replacement surgery


Click on any of the links below to learn more about heart failure and how to manage this condition.

An interactive guide to the signs and symptoms of heart failure: