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Health Information Center

Risk Factors for Heart Failure

  • Michelle Badash, MS
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Risk Factors for Heart Failure

A risk factor is something that raises your chance of having a health issue.

It is possible to have heart failure with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of having heart failure. If you have many risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

The heart has a normal decrease in function as we age. This decrease is often not enough to cause problems. It can raise the risk of heart disease. As a result, heart disease is more common in people who are aged 65 years or more. Although heart failure is more common in men, both men and women can have it.

Other risk factors for heart failure include:

Health Problems That Harm or Weaken the Heart

Having some health issues can put you at an increased risk for heart failure. These force the heart to work harder to overcome heart muscle weakness or damage.

Heart, blood vessel, and lung issues can make the heart work harder than it should. Problems linked to heart failure include:

  • Coronary artery disease: Cholesterol and fat can build up in the arteries that supply the heart with blood. This narrows the blood vessels, causing reduced blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • High blood pressure: Narrowing and hardening of the arteries reduces blood flow and raises blood pressure.
  • Severe lung problems: Conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affect the body's ability to exchange oxygen efficiently. This puts extra strain on the heart to send blood and oxygen to the lungs. This also includes infections that affect how well the lungs work, such as pneumonia.
  • Valvular heart disease: The heart's 4 valves keep blood flowing efficiently and in the right direction. Damage to or infection of the valves may cause leaking between heart chambers. That makes the heart not work as well.
  • Cardiomyopathy: The heart muscle may become damaged due to infection, chronic alcohol abuse, some chemotherapy drugs, cocaine, or scarring. The damage results in the heart muscle not contracting enough.
  • Heart arrhythmias:Abnormal heart rhythms are called arrhythmias. If the heart beats too slowly it cannot pump enough blood through the body. If it beats too fast, it may not let the heart fill with the amount of blood the body needs between heart beats.
  • Congenital heart defects: Problems with the heart muscle or valves that were there at birth.

Metabolic issues can cause changes that put more pressure on the heart such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and elevated heart rate. Health issues linked to a higher risk of heart failure include:

  • Diabetes: People who have diabetes are at higher risk of heart disease. They often have other health issues that raise their risk of heart disease, like high cholesterol and increased weight.
  • Metabolic syndrome: This health problem is marked by higher blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, and body weight. Excess weight around the middle of the body is of big concern.
  • Obesity: Extra body weight causes the heart to work harder to circulate blood through the body. Obesity is also linked to other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and sleep apnea.
  • Hyperthyroidism: This is caused by an overactive thyroid gland. It raises the metabolic rate in the body. The higher levels of thyroid hormone tell the heart to pump faster and harder to supply the body with blood. This causes strain on the heart.

Other health issues linked to a higher risk of heart failure include:

  • Anemia: Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. When the number of red blood cells is reduced, the heart must circulate blood more often to supply enough oxygen to the tissues.
  • Kidney disorders: Blood pressure can go up when the kidneys are not working as they should.
  • Mental health disorders: It is not known how depression, anxiety, and heart failure are linked, but mental health problems do affect overall well-being. Fatigue or lack of interest can lead you to make poor decisions about your health, such as ignoring treatment plans that reduce your risk of heart diseases.

Specific Lifestyle Factors

These lifestyle factors may cause heart muscle damage and raise your risk of heart failure:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Using anabolic steroids for a long time


  • Causes and risks for heart failure. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/causes-and-risks-for-heart-failure.
  • Causes and risk factors. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-failure/causes.
  • Felker, C.M., Thompson, R.E., et al. Underlying causes and long-term survival in patients with initially unexplained cardiomyopathy. N Engl J Med, 2000; 342 (15): 1077-1084.
  • Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/heart-failure-with-reduced-ejection-fraction.


  • Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.