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Causes of Congestive Heart Failure

written by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 8/27/2010

When a person has congestive heart failure, her heart cannot pump enough blood to the rest of her body. But what causes congestive heart failure? Learn about the different causes of congestive heart failure and how they affect the heart's function.

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    Introduction

    In the United States, about 5.8 million people have heart failure, also called congestive heart failure (CDC). Doctors also diagnose around 670,000 people each year with congestive heart failure (CDC). Two classifications of congestive heart failure exist: diastolic and systolic. With diastolic congestive heart failure, the heart's pumping chamber is not getting enough blood. With systolic congestive heart failure, the heart is not pumping blood out effectively. If the heart cannot pump blood as it normally should, it can lead to a back up in other areas of the body. This causes a drop in the amount of oxygen that the body's organs receive, which can result in damage.

    Congestive heart failure can affect the left side of the heart, the right side of the heart or both, although congestive heart failure on the left side of the heart occurs most often (Mayo Clinic). While congestive heart failure can occur suddenly, it is often a long-term and chronic condition (MedlinePlus).

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    What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?

    But what causes congestive heart failure? Conditions that weaken or damage the heart can cause the onset of the disorder (Mayo Clinic). For example, cardiomyopathy, which is damage to the heart muscle, can cause congestive heart failure. Different conditions can cause cardiomyopathy, such as thyroid problems, lupus and infections. Alcohol abuse and the toxic effects of certain drugs can also contribute to cardiomyopathy. Faulty heart valves, congenital heart defects and myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle, can cause congestive heart failure as well.

    Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of congestive heart failure (Mayo Clinic). Coronary artery disease results from a build up of fatty deposits in the arteries. This build up slows the blood's movement. If the fatty deposits rupture, it can cause a blood clot that blocks the blood supply to the heart, which results in a heart attack. Heart arrhythmias can also cause congestive heart failure. For example, if the heart is beating too fast, it can weaken the heart. If the heart is beating too slowly, it interferes in the heart's ability to pump out enough blood. Other causes of congestive heart failure include high blood pressure and chronic diseases, such as amyloidosis, diabetes, emphysema, severe anemia, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

    Other conditions can contribute to acute heart failure, in which the congestive heart failure occurs suddenly. People who have severe infections or illnesses that affect their entire body, for example, may develop acute heart failure. Viruses that affect the heart muscle can also cause acute heart failure. Other causes include blood clots in the lungs, certain medications and allergic reactions.

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    References

    CDC: Heart Failure Fact Sheet

    (http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/library/fs_heart_failure.htm)

    MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Heart Failure

    (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000158.htm)

    Mayo Clinic: Heart Failure – Causes

    (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-failure/DS00061/DSECTION=causes)