Heart failure

Other causes of heart failure: congenital heart disease, valvular disease and cardiomyopathy

Damage to the heart muscle itself and also to any of the heart valves can develop into heart failure. The heart muscle can be damaged by infections, alcohol or drugs used for chemotherapy. Heart failure can also develop as a complication of congenital heart defects (congenital means present at birth).

Dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM is a condition which can lead to heart failure. DCM causes the heart muscle to get longer and become weak or 'floppy'. Though DCM is usually associated with drug or alcohol abuse it can also be caused by viral infection. A woman we talked to who was told she had DCM said she contracted it from a virus she had probably caught on a holiday to the Far East. DCM can run in families and one woman thought that she may have inherited a genetic predisposition for it from her father, though she also believed her heart failure was triggered by the stress of caring for her husband for many years (see also 'Stress and heart failure').

Any damage to the four valves whih control the flow of blood throught the heart can also lead to heart failure. Living with a valvular disease can severely affect someone's quality of life. For instance a woman who developed valvular disease as a result of rheumatic fever in childhood had been advised by doctors in the 1940s never to marry or have children. Another woman who had both her mitral valve and aortic valve replaced, said that valve problems had made both her pregnancies difficult and contributed to her heart function getting worse. Paula was born with heart problems and also developed valve disease in early adultoood and now has heart failure.

Several mentioned that they had developed diabetes before heart failure, and others thought that diabetes had begun after their heart problems. The heart can also be put under strain by damage to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver and kidneys. Most people were unclear about whether any other illness had been caused by their heart failure or vice versa. One man who discovered he had heart failure during medical tests before his liver transplant described his heart as a 'stage villain' that had crept up on him.

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Last reviewed April 2016.
Last updated April 2016.

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