Symptoms and risk factors of heart failure people may not be aware of

Heart failure can affect people of any age, so it's best to be aware of symptoms and risk factors while the disease is at an earlier stage. Mayo Clinic Healthcare's Gosia Wamil, MD, PhD, explains signs of heart failure that people may not be aware of, and how to treat the disease.

Risk factors

Heart failure is caused by the heart becoming too stiff or weak to pump blood as effectively as it should. The disease is defined as the heart failing to pump enough blood to the body to keep up with its needs.

The main cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease. The condition is often connected to poorly controlled hypertension or diabetes. However, there are rare causes, Dr Wamil says. For instance, viral infection can cause myocarditis, which often leads to heart failure. Cardiomyopathies, which affect heart muscle, can also result in the condition.

Lifestyle factors can also affect risk.

"Maintaining a healthy diet, treating obesity, avoiding tobacco use and secondhand smoke, and avoiding alcohol can help prevent heart failure", Dr Wamil says.

Dr Wamil says other risk factors can include:


Dr Wamil says many people are familiar with the more common heart failure warning signs, such as chest pain, breathlessness, a heartbeat that feels rapid or irregular, ankle swelling, and fatigue while exercising.

"There are other symptoms that people may not associate with heart failure. Those include a persistent cough, abdominal swelling, rapid weight gain, nausea and a lack of appetite. People who experience any of these symptoms should contact their health care provider."


Unfortunately, in most forms, heart failure can't be cured. However, there are effective treatments that may control symptoms for many years, depending on the cause of the condition.

"After heart failure is diagnosed, patients will need to manage the condition for the rest of their lives, usually through care at specialised heart failure clinics", Dr Wamil says.

Treatment options may include:

"Over the last few years we have observed significant advances with the introduction of new classes of medications to manage heart failure", Dr Wamil says. Those include drugs called SGLT2 inhibitors, initially developed to lower glucose levels in patients with diabetes.

Dr Wamil's heart failure research includes studies aimed at understanding and breaking the connection between diabetes and heart disease and using novel medical imaging techniques to identify heart failure early, when serious consequences can be prevented.