Heart failure and congestive heart failure are chronic conditions that have lasted for a year or more, require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living, and will continue to get worse with time.

At first, the damaged organ finds ways to compensate. For example, the heart’s chambers may stretch to pump more strongly, which causes the walls to have thinned, or they may thicken as the heart muscles build up to provide more force. But over time, keeping up with this increasing workload causes more and more damage to the heart muscles.

But now that you know what heart failure is and its warning signs, the question is — what causes heart failure in the first place?

Treatment for Heart Failure
80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable

Risk Factors

A single risk factor may be enough to cause heart failure, but a combination of factors also increases the risk drastically. These include:

  • Coronary artery disease. Narrowed arteries that limit the heart’s supply of oxygen-rich blood
  • Heart attack. A form of coronary artery disease that occurs suddenly. Damage to the heart muscle from a heart attack may mean the heart can no longer pump as well as it should.
  • Heart valve disease. A heart valve that doesn’t work properly raises the risk of heart failure.
  • High blood pressure. The heart works harder than if blood pressure is lower.
  • Irregular heartbeats. These abnormal rhythms, especially if they are persistent and fast, can weaken the heart muscle and cause heart failure.
  • Congenital heart disease. Some people who develop heart failure were born with problems that affect the structure or function of their heart.
  • Diabetes. Having diabetes increases your risk of high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.
  • Some medications. Some medications may lead to heart failure or heart problems. Consult your doctor for more information on specific drugs.
  • Alcohol use. Drinking too much alcohol can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure.
  • Sleep apnea. The inability to breathe properly while sleeping results in low blood-oxygen levels and an increased risk of irregular heartbeats, both of which will weaken the heart.
  • Smoking or using tobacco. Using tobacco increases the risk of heart disease and heart failure.
  • Obesity. People who have obesity have a higher risk of developing heart failure.
  • Viruses. Certain viral infections can cause damage to the heart muscle.


Genetic factors likely play some role in heart failure. Still, it is also likely that people with a family history of heart disease share common environments and other factors that may increase their risk.

Heart failure is the leading cause of death for people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States, including African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and white people.

If you or a loved one have one or more of these risk factors, it’s time to talk to your doctor immediately. A physician can test and diagnose any heart failure and set you up with treatment that can minimize or even reverse these conditions.