What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?


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  • There are triggers of congestive heart failure that can be traced to other conditions directly affecting the cardiovascular system
  • Some lifestyle habits can increase a person’s risk and possibly cause congestive heart failure too

The causes of congestive heart failure are often idiopathic, or unknown. However, there are triggers of this disease that can be traced to other conditions directly affecting the cardiovascular system. Patients with congestive heart failure have weaker hearts that are caused by an underlying heart or blood vessel problem, or a combination of other problems, such as:1,2

Coronary artery disease: Patients with this condition have narrower arteries that may restrict blood flow, which ultimately can weaken and damage the heart.3

This disease can develop when the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart are blocked by cholesterol and other types of fatty substances

Ischemic cardiomyopathy: This develops when blood vessels supplying the coronary arteries are blocked, potentially causing a heart attack.

According to EMedicineHealth, if other noncoronary causes are responsible for the cardiomyopathy, it's called nonischemic cardiomyopathy

 Congenital heart disease

Infections (commonly from viruses), which for unknown reasons affect some individuals’ hearts

 Certain genetic diseases that involve the heart

Prolonged and serious arrhythmias (abnormal heart beat4

 Toxic exposures, such as from alcohol or cocaine

Various disorders (albeit less common) wherein the heart muscle is infiltrated by a disease process

Other conditions: Apart from heart-related diseases, other conditions that can increase your risk for congestive heart failure include diabetes, thyroid disease and allergic reactions

Lifestyle Habits Can Trigger Congestive Heart Failure

Some lifestyle habits can increase a person's risk and possibly cause congestive heart failure too:5

  • Unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
  • Obesity and lack of exercise, which can contribute to congestive heart failure directly or indirectly by triggering high blood pressure levels, diabetes and coronary artery disease
  • High salt intake that can cause fluid retention
  • Noncompliance with medicines and other therapies

Pathophysiology Problems Linked to Congestive Heart Failure

The heart's pumping action can also be impaired by several physiologic mechanisms, such as disease and/or lifestyle choices. Eventually, these may result in congestive heart failure:6,7

Abnormal rhythms or irregular heartbeat: The heart's effectiveness as a pump can be reduced because of abnormal heart rhythms (rhythm can be too slow, too fast or irregular). When this happens, the heart needs to pump harder to combat the rhythm disorders. If an excessively slow or fast heartbeat is sustained for hours, days or weeks, this can weaken the heart and lead to congestive heart failure.

Hypertension: This occurs when blood vessels are restricted by cholesterol and fat, making it difficult for blood to pass through and causing blood pressure levels to be higher than normal. Elevated blood pressure levels can increase the workload of the heart's left ventricle, which pumps blood to the circulatory system. As the workload rises, there is increased damage and weakening of the heart, causing heart failure.

Valve conditions: The valves aid in regulating blood flow through the heart by opening and closing to facilitate entry and exit of the blood into and out of the chambers. If the valves don't open and close correctly, it can force the ventricles to work harder to pump blood. Sometimes an infection or defect in the valves can cause this problem. This is called a stenotic valve.

The valves may also fail to close properly, causing the blood to flow backward into the heart, prompting the heart to work harder than normal to maintain its output. If the blood that went "against the current" accumulates in the lungs and the body, the heart can weaken, developing a particular condition called an incompetent valve.

Cardiomyopathy: This is characterized by the patient having weakened heart muscles because of damage or disease. Weakened heart muscles fail to contract or squeeze as forcefully as they should.

Damage to heart muscle due to blockage: Blockage to the coronary blood supply can lead to a heart attack or myocardial infection, triggering severe pain in the chest, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating and/or a feeling of impending doom. A heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest or permanent damage to the left ventricle. Furthermore, extensive damage to the said ventricle, especially from previous heart attacks, can also cause it to not work properly and lead to heart failure.

As much as possible, try to get annual checkups to help reduce your risk for congestive heart failure. Make sure that you're checked for high blood pressure levels or hypertension, coronary artery disease and valve conditions.


Congestive Heart Failure: Introduction

What Is Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms

Congestive Heart Failure Causes

Congestive Heart Failure Stages

Congestive Heart Failure Life Expectancy

Congestive Heart Failure Treatment

Congestive Heart Failure Prevention

Congestive Heart Failure Diet

Congestive Heart Failure FAQ

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