A doctor lectures about the causes of heart failure

Congestive Heart Failure Causes

About 5 million Americans have congestive heart failure, which is a fatal condition that affects the heart’s ability to pump blood. Specifically, heart failure is a result of an increase of pressure when blood moves through the heart and body at a decreased rate.

Because of this decrease, the heart no longer pumps enough nutrients and oxygen that is required for the body. The heart then responds by either expanding in order to hold more blood to pump through the body or becomes stiff and thickens. Although these responses help maintain the flow of blood, the heart muscle walls can weaken and eventually will be unable to pump blood as effectively. 

Here is a look at some different conditions that can weaken your heart, leading to congestive heart failure.  

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Arteries are responsible for supplying blood and oxygen to the heart. When arteries become clogged or narrowed, as with coronary artery disease, there is a decreased blood flow to the heart muscle, resulting in the heart’s inability to obtain oxygen and nutrients.

Heart Attack

When a coronary artery is blocked, the flow of blood to the heart muscle stops and a heart attack occurs. Damage is seen in the heart muscle, which becomes a scarred and functions abnormally.


Diabetes occurs when too much sugar (glucose) is in the blood due to an insufficient amount of insulin produced by the body. Over time, nerves and blood vessels become damaged because of the increased blood glucose levels, leading to heart failure. Additionally, certain medications (Avandia and Actos) that treat diabetes can increase your risk for congestive heart failure. 

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

The force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries is known as blood pressure. Your heart can weaken, leading to plaque build up, if your blood pressure rises and remains high for a significant length of time.


Damage to the heart muscle that can be caused by a number of factors such as disease, infection, alcohol consumption, drug abuse, and chemotherapy. Damage to the heart muscle (also known as cardiomyopathy) will weaken the heart and lead to congestive heart failure.

Sleep Apnea

Trouble breathing normally while you sleep (known as sleep apnea) results in low blood oxygen levels and a rise in irregular heart rhythms. Over time, these problems can weaken your heart.


Anemia occurs when your red blood cell count is severely low, and there are not enough blood cells to carry oxygen. The heart responds by trying to move the small amount of blood cells at an increased rate, becoming overworked.


An overactive thyroid can cause the body to work faster, leading to the heart becoming overworked and prone to congestive heart failure. 

Congestive Heart Failure Risk Factors

If you already have a condition that affects the heart, then the following factors increase your chances of experiencing heart failure even more: 

  • Alcohol abuse: Drinking can cause heart muscle to weaken, leading to congestive heart failure
  • Obesity: People who are overweight are more likely to experience heart failure.
  • Tobacco use: Smoking increases your chances of developing congestive heart failure.
Last Updated: April 18, 2018