COVID-19 Resource Center

Review the latest information on visitor policies, safety procedures, vaccines, and more in the COVID-19 Resource Center.


Heart Failure Deaths Rising in Younger Adults

Study Uncovers Cause of Alarming Trend

This article was originally published by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine News Center. It has been modified for the Northwestern Medicine content hub, HealthBeat.

Death rates due to heart failure are now increasing, and this increase is most prominent among younger adults under 65, reports a Northwestern Medicine study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Why the Reserval in Trend?

This study is showing for the first time that death rates due to heart failure have been increasing since 2012. The rise in deaths comes despite significant advances in medical and surgical treatments for heart failure in the past decade. The increase in premature death from heart failure was highest among black men under age 65.

“The success of the last three decades in improving heart failure death rates is now being reversed, and it is likely due to the obesity and diabetes epidemics,” says Northwestern Medicine Cardiologist Sadiya Khan, MD, who is an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and senior author on the study.

An estimated 6 million adults in the U.S. have heart failure, and Dr. Khan says it’s the leading cause of hospital admission for older adults. “We focused on patients with heart failure because they have the highest mortality related to cardiovascular death,” she explains. “They have a prognosis similar to metastatic lung cancer.”

“Given the aging population, and the obesity and diabetes epidemics, which are major risk factors for heart failure, it is likely that this trend will continue to worsen,” Dr. Khan says. Recent data that show the average life expectancy in the U.S. also is declining, which compounds Dr. Khan’s concern that cardiovascular death related to heart failure may be a significant contributor to this change.

The study used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research, which includes the underlying and contributing cause of death from all death certificates in the U.S. from 1999 to 2017. Investigators analyzed the age-adjusted mortality rate for black and white adults ages 35 to 84 who died from heart failure.

Risk and Symptoms of Heart Failure

Heart failure, simply put, is a condition in which the heart muscle doesn’t squeeze or relax correctly. As the heart works harder to do its job, it becomes less able to pump essential blood and oxygen to organs and tissue in your body.

Heart failure is a long-term condition that can worsen over time. As the heart’s pumping action weakens, blood can begin to back up into the blood vessels around the lungs, causing seepage of fluid into the lungs. The fluid causes congestion and makes breathing difficult.

There is a greater risk of developing heart failure for individuals with a history of:

  • A congenital heart defect
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Heart rhythm disorders
  • Heart valve disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Lung disease

Symptoms of heart failure can be difficult to identify, but common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Congestion in the lungs
  • Swelling of the legs and feet

“To combat this disturbing trend, we need to focus on improving the control of risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes,” Dr. Khan says. “Healthy lifestyle changes promoting a normal body mass index also can protect from developing heart failure, as well as engaging in regular physical activity and consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet.”

Learn ways to implement these lifestyle changes, like incorporating heart-healthy foods into your diet or practicing gentle yoga poses to reduce stress, which can lead to high blood pressure. Also, know the signs that it’s time to see a cardiologist.

Featured Experts

Sadiya S. Khan, MD
Rated 5.0 87 Ratings