Heart Failure in Seniors

Approximately 6.2 million adults in the United States are currently living with heart failure. An additional 670,000 new cases are diagnosed annually, up from 500,000 a few years ago. With the aging of the population, the problem is poised to reach epidemic proportions in coming years, taking a tremendous toll on quality of life as well as longevity.

What is Heart Failure in Seniors?

Heart failure, or congestive heart failure, is a chronic progressive condition in which the heart muscle becomes weak and inefficient. As a result, the heart struggles to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands, leading to a range of symptoms and complications.
older woman holding her head and chest as she suffers from senior heart failure signs

Common Causes of Heart Failure in Seniors

Common causes of heart failure in seniors include:
  • Coronary Artery Disease: Blockages or narrowing of the coronary arteries can restrict blood flow to the heart muscle, causing damage and weakened pumping ability.
  • Hypertension: High blood pressure can strain the heart, eventually leading to heart failure if left uncontrolled.
  • Cardiomyopathy: This term refers to various diseases that weaken the heart muscle, making it difficult for the heart to pump effectively.
  • Heart Attack: A heart attack can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle, reducing its ability to contract and pump blood efficiently.
Other medical conditions that increase the risk for developing heart failure:
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Valvular Heart Disease
older man with white hair sitting on his couch while he holds his chest during heart failure in seniors

Signs of Heart Failure in Seniors

It may be appropriate to begin testing for heart failure if you or a family member has any of the potential signs of heart failure, such as:
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, or abdomen (edema)
  • Rapid weight gain or fluid retention
  • Persistent cough or wheezing
  • Reduced appetite and nausea
  • Increased heart rate or palpitations

Heart Failure Screening Options

Screening tests are done for adults without current symptoms, who may be at high risk for certain diseases or conditions.  There are no current guidelines for routine heart failure screening without symptoms.  Your healthcare provider may recommend some of these screenings if you are considered at high risk for developing heart failure.


Blood Tests

Blood tests are done to look for signs of diseases that can affect the heart.


Chest X-Ray

X-ray images can show the condition of the lungs and heart.


Electrocardiogram (ECG)

This quick and painless test records the electrical signals in the heart. It can show the timing and length of the heartbeats.



Sound waves are used to produce images of the heart in motion. This test shows the size and structure of the heart and heart valves and blood flow through the heart. An echocardiogram helps classify heart failure and guides treatment.

Heart Failure Treatment Options

Treatment options for heart failure inlude medication interventions, lifestyle modifications, and surgical interventions.


Medications that may be prescribed for heart failure in seniors include: - Diuretics: Help remove excess fluid from the body, reducing swelling and improving breathing. - ACE inhibitors/ARBs: Dilate blood vessels and reduce strain on the heart. - Beta-blockers: Lower heart rate and blood pressure, improving the heart's pumping efficiency. - Aldosterone antagonists: Help regulate fluid balance and prevent potassium loss. - Digoxin: Enhances the heart's ability to contract, improving symptoms in some cases.

Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestlye modifications for heart failure treatment include limiting sodium intake helps reduce fluid retention, limiting overall fluid intake, participate in a supervised exercise program for cardiovascular fitness, and quitting smoking to reduce further cardiac damage and improve overall health.

Surgical and Device Interventions

Surgical and device interventions used for heart failure treatment include: - Coronary Revascularization: Restoring blood flow to the heart by bypassing blocked arteries. - Valve Repair/Replacement: Correcting abnormal heart valves that contribute to heart failure. - Implantable Devices: Devices like Pacemakers or Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators (ICDs) can help regulate heart rhythm and prevent sudden cardiac arrest. - Heart Transplant: In severe cases, a heart transplant may be the only option for a better quality of life.

Heart Failure Care at Greater Good Health

Heart failure is a complex and serious condition that requires comprehensive management. By understanding its causes, recognizing the symptoms, and seeking early medical intervention, individuals can improve their quality of life and minimize complications. It is crucial to consult with a senior healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. Contact us today to get started with heart failure care through senior primary care, preventive care services, and more.
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