It’s never fun to hear the word “failure.” But when it comes after the word “heart,” it can be terrifying.
Don’t let the name deceive you. Heart failure is a serious condition, but it does not mean that your heart has completely stopped working. It means that your heart is not pumping blood the way it should.
What Exactly Is Heart Failure?
Let’s take a step back.
The heart is a muscular pump. Normally, it pumps oxygen-rich blood to your body, providing your organs (e.g., kidneys, liver) with the oxygen and nutrients they need to function.
Heart failure occurs when the heart becomes overworked and can’t keep up. It’s unable to send out enough blood to meet the body’s needs. This can lead to symptoms such as difficulty breathing and fatigue. Your organs may have trouble functioning.
In severe cases, if heart failure causes dangerous heart rhythms or no longer responds to treatment, it can be life-threatening.
Heart failure can get worse over time and there is usually no cure. However, there are many treatments to control symptoms, prevent heart failure from getting worse, and help you live longer.
- Anyone can have heart failure, but it’s more common in African Americans and adults over age 65.
- You are not alone: 1 in 5 U.S. adults will develop heart failure.
- More than six million U.S. adults have heart failure.
- By 2030, it’s estimated that 8 million people in the U.S. will have heart failure.
- Many people with heart failure can control symptoms with medication and lifestyle changes, and go on to lead a full, enjoyable life.
5 Fast Facts About Heart Failure
Here are four other reasons why you may be at an increased risk for heart failure.
1. You Have (or Have Had) Another Heart Disease
Most people with heart failure aren’t strangers to heart conditions — they have or have had a different heart condition.
Some of the most common conditions that can lead to heart failure are:
Coronary Artery Disease
Your coronary arteries are the major blood vessels that bring blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the heart. Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries are damaged or diseased — usually from a buildup of cholesterol or other materials on the arteries’ walls — decreasing or completely blocking blood flow to the heart.
This can lead to heart failure because if certain areas of the heart consistently don’t get enough oxygen or nutrients, the heart can become too weak to pump enough blood.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Your blood pressure is the force at which blood pushes against your blood vessels’ walls. High blood pressure develops when pressure is high for a long time — so high that it can cause problems such as a heart attack or stroke.
If you have high blood pressure, your heart needs to work harder. And eventually, your heart may not be able to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
Previous Heart Attack
A heart attack occurs when an artery is blocked and can’t bring blood to the heart. This is generally due to a buildup of plaque (a combination of cholesterol, fat, and other substances) that narrows the arteries.
During a heart attack, the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen and nutrients, and the heart muscle starts to die. Quick treatment can save your life and may be able to prevent or limit damage to the muscle.
Many people who survive heart attacks go on to lead healthy lives. However, permanent damage from an attack can increase the risk of future heart attacks or other diseases. Heart failure can occur if the damage weakens the heart’s ability to pump blood.
Since high cholesterol can increase your risk for conditions like heart attack or coronary artery disease, high cholesterol also puts you at risk for heart failure.
2. You Lead a Not-So-Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
Your everyday lifestyle can be a major contributor to your risk for heart failure or heart failure-causing conditions.
Unhealthy eating patterns are one of the biggest contributors to heart problems. If you eat foods that are high in fat or cholesterol all the time, you may have an increased risk of heart disease. Too much salt can put you at risk for high blood pressure.
Other lifestyle risk factors for heart failure include:
- Not getting enough physical activity
- Smoking tobacco
- Excessive alcohol use
- Lack of sleep
- Substance abuse (e.g., methamphetamines, cocaine)
3. There’s a Family History of Heart Problems
Heart problems often run in families. If you have a family history of heart disease, you may have an increased risk for coronary heart disease and heart attack — both of which can lead to heart failure.
There are several reasons why heart problems can run in the family.
One reason is genetics — Parents can pass on genes to their children that play a role in conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
It’s also possible that family habits play a role. Poor diet and not enough exercise can increase the risk for heart conditions. If all family members have the same bad habits, they will share similar health risks.
4. You Have Other Chronic Conditions
If something happens in one part of your body, it can have a ripple effect throughout your whole body. That’s why other conditions that don’t start in your heart can still raise your risk for heart failure. Some of the most common include:
Obesity is closely linked with many heart problems, including failure. If you are obese, your heart has to work much harder. And over time, this can weaken the heart and lead to heart failure.
One of the biggest concerns with obesity is that it’s directly related to other heart conditions, like a heart attack or high blood pressure. It’s also a risk factor for conditions that don’t begin in the heart, such as diabetes or sleep apnea, which also happen to be heart failure risks.
Diabetes is a condition where your body can’t regulate the amount of sugar in the blood. This disease is very much associated with body weight — 87.5 percent of people with diabetes are either overweight or obese.
If you have diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure or a buildup of plaque on your artery walls. And these are both risk factors for heart failure.
In addition to obesity and diabetes, you may have an increased risk for heart failure if you have:
- Sleep apnea
- Over- or underactive thyroid
- Buildup of iron or protein
- Severe viruses or infections that attack the heart
- Blood clots in the lungs
Also, certain medications, such as those used to treat neurological or lung problems and even high blood pressure, can increase the risk of heart problems. However, always talk to your provider before stopping any medication.
If you think that you may be at risk for heart failure, talk to your health care provider ASAP. The earlier you find it, the earlier you can treat it and prevent it from getting worse.
Do you think you’re at risk for heart failure? Call (785) 270-4000 to schedule an appointment with a Stormont Vail Health cardiologist at the Cotton O’Neil Heart Center, or call (785) 270-4440 to schedule an appointment with your Stormont Vail primary care provider.