Heart failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump blood properly. When this happens, blood can back up and fluid can accumulate in the lungs, causing breathing problems. Its prevalence doubles with each decade of age, being 10% at age 70.

The main cause of heart failure is weakness, damage or stiffness of the heart. Factors that can lead to this include:

  • It is much more common in older age.
  • Coronary artery disease: this is the most common cause of heart failure and results from the accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries that reduce their diameter.
  • Hypertension: high blood pressure forces the heart to make a greater effort.
  • Previous heart attack: damage to the heart muscle as a result of a heart attack can lead to subsequent pumping problems.
  • Heart valve disease
  • Cardiac arrhythmias. These can weaken the heart muscle.
  • Diabetes: increases the risk of hypertension and coronary artery disease.
  • Sleep apnea: lowered oxygen levels due to sleep apnea lead to increased risk of irregular heartbeats and coronary weakness.
  • Obesity.
  • Certain infections.
  • Alcohol or drug use.
  • Medications: some drugs, such as rosiglitazone or NSAIDs can cause heart failure in some people.


Symptoms usually develop slowly, although, on some occasions, they may appear suddenly. Symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath, fatigue and weakness.
  • Swelling due to fluid retention in the lower extremities
  • Tachycardia
  • Chronic cough
  • Weight gain due to fluid retention
  • Nausea and lack of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness


Heart failure is often the result of other conditions that cause it, so prevention involves controlling these pathologies. Among them, as described above, are coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity.

In addition, there are also lifestyle actions that can help reduce the risk, such as not smoking, practicing regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and controlling stress.

Number of observed variants

13.5 million variants

Number of risk loci

11 loci

Genes analyzed



Shah S, Henry A, Roselli C, et al. Genome-wide association and Mendelian randomisation analysis provide insights into the pathogenesis of heart failure. Nature Communications. 2020 Jan;11(1):163.

What is Heart failure? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NIH) [May 2022]

Heart failure. MedlinePlus. National Library of medicine (NIH) [Aug 2022]

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