Heart failure occurs when the heart becomes weakened following a heart attack or from the long-term effects of high blood pressure. The weakened heart muscle becomes unable to maintain adequate blood flow to the body's tissues and organs. Heart failure is serious, and it's a major cause of death. Treatment is available for heart failure, but it can't be cured. After a patient receives a diagnosis of heart failure, he or she will need lifelong treatment for the condition.
The worldwide statistics for people with heart disease and heart failure are sobering. In industrialized countries, the prevalence of heart failure is 1 to 2 percent of the general population, and treating heart failure consumes 1 to 2 percent of the total health care resources, a proportion that is expected to increase in the future.
The American Heart Association estimates that about 5 million people nationwide have heart failure, and its prevalence is growing. They also estimate that cardiovascular diseases (heart and blood vessel diseases) cause almost twice as many deaths in the United States as cancer of all types combined. According to the National Institutes of Health, 550,000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed and 300,000 deaths are caused by heart failure each year.
Heart failure puts very significant health and financial burdens on patients, their families and society as a whole. According to the American Heart Association, in 2008 the estimated total cost of heart failure in the United States will be more than $35 billion.
On the next page, we'll learn about the increased incidence of heart failure and why it might be happening.