Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

What causes heart failure?

3-minute read

Often there is not one single cause of heart failure. There are a number of conditions that make it more likely that you will develop heart failure. These include:

  • coronary heart disease, when the arteries supplying blood to the heart become clogged up with fatty deposits called 'plaque', also know as 'atherosclerosis'. This is the most common cause of both heart attack and heart failure
  • high blood pressure puts extra strain on the heart and over time can lead to heart failure
  • damage to the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) can lead to heart failure. Damage can be caused by infections but also by alcohol misuse, drug abuse or sometimes as a side effect of prescribed drugs. Heart attacks can also damage the heart muscle
  • heart rhythm disturbance (atrial fibrillation)
  • heart valve disease, damage or problems with the valves in the heart can lead to heart failure
  • anaemia
  • an overactive thyroid gland.

Many of these factors can be managed either by making lifestyle changes or by taking medicines.

Other risk factors

There are conditions that can also increase the risk of developing heart failure. These include those mentioned below.

Heart rhythm abnormalities (arrhythmias)

If the heart beats too fast, it may not have enough time to fill and empty properly, which causes the heart muscle to weaken. A slow heartbeat may reduce the heart output and cause symptoms of heart failure.

An irregular heart rhythm increases the risk of a blood clot (thrombosis), causing a heart attack or stroke. In some patients it may cause heart failure, especially if the heart rate is too fast.


This is inflammation of the heart muscle and most commonly caused by infection with a virus. This inflammation can lead to heart failure.

Damaged heart valves

The heart contains four valves that make sure the blood flows one way through the heart. A leaking valve means the heart has to work harder and stretches to deal with the extra volume of blood. A narrowed valve can obstruct blood flow and reduce the amount of blood the heart can pump. Over time both a leaking valve or a narrowed valve can weaken the heart muscle.

Heart valves can be damaged during a heart attack, and some children are born with faulty valves (congenital heart disease). Valves can be repaired with a surgical operation if the damage is detected in time.

Other heart diseases present at birth

Some babies are born with a 'hole in the heart' which is an abnormal connection between the left and right sides of the heart. Blood can flow from one side to the other (usually left to right) causing strain on the right side of the heart, which in turn may cause heart failure to develop.

Last reviewed: September 2016

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Facts about chronic heart failure | The Heart Foundation

Heart failure is a serious condition. Learn the symptoms of heart disease, what happens after diagnosis and how to manage the problems it causes.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

BNP and NT-proBNP - Lab Tests Online AU

Why and when to get tested for BNP and NT-proBNP

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Tricuspid Valvular Disease | myVMC

Tricuspid Valvular Disease is a disease of the heart, namely the tricuspid valve between the right ventricle and right atrium

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Heart failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle has become too weak to pump blood through the body as effectively as normal

Read more on WA Health website

Chronic Heart Failure | myVMC

Chronic heart failure occurs when the heart fails to pump sufficient blood through the body. It may occur rapidly (heart attack) or slowly.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Heart Failure | myVMC

Heart failure, in simple terms, is when the heart fails to maintain an adequate circulation of blood around the body, owing to a defect in the hearts pumping action

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Congestive Heart Failure | myVMC

Congestive heart failure is characterised by the heart not being able to pump enough blood around the body. It affects 13% of Australians over 65.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Congestive heart failure (CHF) - Better Health Channel

Congestive heart failure is present when the heart cannot pump enough blood to satisfy the needs of the body.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death and disease burden in Australia. The number of people living with cardiovascular disease is increasing due to factors including population ageing and improved treatments that have resulted in people living longer with CVD.

Read more on Department of Health website

Heart disease and relaxin association information | myVMC

Relaxin is a reproductive peptide hormone that relaxes tissues, including the heart. Relaxin levels increase in heart failure.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo