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What Causes Heart Failure? Yale Medicine Explains

August 3, 2021

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We often take our hard-working hearts for granted—when all is well, they beat regularly and enable us to go about our lives without thinking about what this organ does for us. But when something is amiss, it can lead to potentially life-threatening conditions—and worry.  

“When you think about it in a very simple fashion, the heart is a muscle and its main job is to pump blood,” says Tariq Ahmad, MD, medical director of the Yale Medicine Advanced Heart Failure Program. But, he notes, a variety of heart conditions can lead to what’s known as heart failure.  

Some heart conditions that lead to heart failure are genetic, while some are related to heart valve disease. Myocarditis—a disease where a viral infection affects the heart—is another potential cause.  

But the most common factor contributing to heart failure, says Dr. Ahmad, is damage caused by a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when fatty plaque builds up inside the blood vessel so blood cannot reach the heart. Unblocking the blood vessel quickly is critical; the longer the blood vessel remains blocked, the more muscle in the heart will die.  

This puts pressure on the living muscle that remains, which must do extra work to pump the same volume of blood. The work of making up for the dead muscle takes a toll over time. That’s when the heart begins to falter, and when heart failure develops.  

In this video, Dr. Ahmad explains the causes of heart failure.