Risks for Heart Failure

Heart failure (HF) is a serious, long-term (chronic) condition. It’s more likely to happen as you age, but anyone can develop heart failure. Heart failure cases are on the rise in the United States in recent years, due in part to the aging population.

Although the absolute number of people with heart failure has grown as a result of the increasing number of older adults in the U.S. population, the incidence of heart failure has decreased in recent years. Meaning, there are fewer cases per 1,000 people than there once were.

Still, if you have heart failure, you can live a full and active life with the right medical treatment and lifestyle.

Understand the risks that can lead to heart failure

Most people who develop heart failure have (or had) another heart condition first.

Having one or more of the following risk factors greatly increases your risk of heart failure:

HF CAD iconCoronary artery disease. When cholesterol and fatty deposits build up in the heart’s arteries, less blood can reach the heart muscle. This buildup is known as atherosclerosis. The result may be chest pain (angina). Or, if blood flow becomes totally blocked, a heart attack may result. Atherosclerosis can also contribute to high blood pressure, which over time can also lead to heart failure.

Learn more about coronary artery disease.

HF HBP iconHigh blood pressure. When pressure in the blood vessels is too high, the heart has to pump harder than normal to keep the blood circulating. This takes a toll on the heart, and over time the chambers get larger and weaker, resulting in heart failure.

Watch an animation showing how HBP can lead to heart failure, or learn more about HBP.

HF Diabetes iconType 2 Diabetes. People with diabetes tend to develop HBP and atherosclerosis from elevated lipid levels in the blood.

Learn more about diabetes and heart disease.

Metabolic syndrome. If you have three or more of the following five risk factors, you have metabolic syndrome: large waistline (abdominal obesity), high fasting triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol, high blood pressure and high fasting blood sugar. Metabolic risk factors affect the heart and contribute to developing heart failure. Learn more about metabolic syndrome.

Hyperactive thyroid problems. This condition can cause a consistent elevation in heart rate and the heart muscle will thicken over time.

Aging can weaken and stiffen your heart. People over 65 are more likely to have heart failure.

Additional risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Being obese or overweight
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Certain types of radiation and chemotherapy

Although you can’t change your race, certain populations are at higher risk. Black people have a roughly 19% higher risk of developing heart failure than white people. It is sometimes more serious and starts at a younger age than white people. Additionally, research shows that Hispanic people carry multiple heart failure risk factors and health care disparities, which suggests elevated heart failure risk in this population as well.

The American Heart Association is here to help. The best thing you can do for yourself is to follow your health care professional’s instructions and make any needed changes in eating patterns, physical activity and lifestyle. This will help give you the highest possible quality of life.

The most important thing to remember if you are living with HF is that you’re not alone. More than 6 million Americans are living with heart failure, and more than 1,000,000 new cases are diagnosed in adults 55 years of age and over each year. You can manage this condition.  

Explore resources on our website and visit the Support Network to connect with others living with heart failure.

Watch, Learn and Live

Interactive Cardiovascular Library Thumbnail image

See your cardiovascular system in action with our interactive illustrations and animations.