Understanding Heart Failure

What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a serious condition for which there is currently no cure. The heart delivers oxygen and nutrients to various organs of the body to provide adequate blood flow. When the heart’s pumping action is weakened, the amount of blood flow is reduced and organs or cells of the body do not receive enough oxygen and nutrients. As a result, the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

In heart failure, the body tries to compensate for reduced pumping ability. Sometimes this response helps in the short term, but can cause even more problems in the long term. As a result, heart failure is progressive, meaning that it gets worse over time.

A doctor, usually a cardiologist or heart failure specialist, will attempt to manage or slow the progression and reduce symptoms caused by heart failure. These symptoms include shortness of breath, swelling in the legs or ankles, and fatigue. Current standard of care includes medication and/or various implantable devices to treat the failing heart based on progression of the condition. The symptoms of heart failure can often be treated, but the underlying process is largely irreversible. At this point, end-stage therapies are imminent, such as Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVADs) or a heart transplant.

Heart Failure Statistics

Heart failure is a major cause of illness in the United States and other Western societies and typically results in reduced life expectancy.

  • Over 6 million patients in the U.S. suffer from heart failure
  • 825,000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed each year
  • The chance of developing heart failure increases sharply with age. At 40 years of age, the lifetime risk of developing heart failure for both men and women is 1 in 5
  • The number of patients with heart failure in the U.S. is expected to double in the next 20 years
  • It is estimated that the direct and indirect U.S. costs for heart failure were $39.2 billion in 2009
  • 9.3% of men and 4.8% of women in the U.S. within the age group 60-79 have heart failure
  • Heart failure is more common in blacks than whites (4.2% of blacks vs 2.4% of whites)
(Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2009 & 2014 Updates. A Report From the AHA Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Lloyd-Jones D, et al. Circulation 2009;119:e1-161.)

What Causes Heart Failure?

Heart failure can be caused by a number of different underlying diseases. The most common causes of heart failure are:

  1. Previous heart attack(s) or ischemic heart disease
  2. Valvular heart disease (marked obstruction or leaking of a heart valve)
  3. Persistent high blood pressure or Hypertensive heart disease
  4. Viral or Unknown cause
  5. Alcoholic abuse (long-term heavy alcohol consumption) or a history of smoking
  6. Diabetes, Kidney disease, obesity, and other genetic diseases