Heart failure is when your heart is functioning but cannot pump well enough to meet the body’s demands for oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood. In most cases, there is no cure for heart failure, which is a progressive disease. However, treatment and careful management of the condition can allow many heart failure patients to have a good quality of life.
While heart failure can have many causes—and sometimes no cause can be identified—the condition can always be described as ischemic or nonischemic.
Ischemic Heart Failure
The terms ischemia and ischemic simply describe any situation when tissue in the body cannot receive adequate blood flow because of blockages in the arteries that supply that tissue with blood. Coronary artery disease is a disease process that causes narrowing or “hardening” of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle—creating an ischemic process. Blood flow to the heart muscle through the arteries is reduced or cut off as the disease progresses.
Coronary artery disease can cause a heart attack, a dangerous condition when a sudden blockage in an artery causes heart muscle tissue to be damaged and begin to die. Heart muscle damage from long-term coronary artery disease or from a prior heart attack can also weaken the heart muscle over time. As the heart muscle weakens, it is less able to pump blood efficiently to the body, leading to heart failure.
Nonischemic Heart Failure
Nonischemic heart failure is any form of heart failure that is not caused by blockages in the heart arteries. Nonischemic contributors to heart failure include:
Sometimes people develop heart failure but there is no known cause. This is called idiopathic.
To learn more about ischemic and nonischemic causes of heart failure, visit Causes of Heart Failure. To better understand heart failure, it may also be helpful to gain a general understanding of how a healthy heart and blood vessels function.
After heart failure causes have been identified (when possible), treatment will begin. Heart failure treatment most often takes a management approach. There is no cure for most cases of heart failure, but carefully managing or eliminating risk factors and causes can improve quality and often length of life.