Causes and Symptoms of a Weak Heart

Statistics from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention report an estimated 5 million Americans suffer from heart failure, with over 500,000 new cases appearing each year. Coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are the leading causes for weakness in heart function. As of yet, there is no known cure; however there are steps that can be taken to improve this condition.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.


"Heart failure" is the medical term used to indicate the presence of a weak heart. This term refers to the heart's inability to circulate blood through the body. Blood flow is slower than normal, which places more pressure on the heart than usual. Slower blood circulation means body's cells don't receive the oxygen and nutrients needed for normal function. This added pressure on the heart causes its chambers to thicken, or the heart will expand so it can hold more blood. If this condition persists, the muscles that make up the walls of the heart will weaken.


A number of conditions can cause, or contribute, to a weak heart. Disorders that overwork the heart muscles, like high blood pressure, thyroid disease, kidney disease or diabetes can cause it to gradually deteriorate over time. Coronary artery disease (CAD)--a condition brought on by a narrowing of the arteries--is another condition that causes the heart to work harder than normal. Narrow arteries prevent needed oxygen and nutrients from reaching the heart. In addition, the heart has to exert extra force to move blood through these narrowed passage ways.


The symptoms associated with a weak heart are fairly easy to spot. Cells that don't receive sufficient blood flow begin to break down from a lack of oxygen and nutrients. When this happens, fluids contained inside the blood vessels begin to seep into surrounding tissues. This can cause swelling in the ankles and legs, and water retention throughout the body. Excess fluids can also accumulate in the lungs and digestive track, causing shortness of breath and a loss of appetite. The heart's inability to circulate blood to the muscles leaves the body feeling tired and weak, making everyday tasks harder to do.

Testing for a Weak Heart

There are a number of tests used to determine how well a heart is functioning. Your doctor may order a cardiovascular stress test to see if the heart receives enough blood during stress or activity. Echocardiogram tests are administered to check blood flow and to measure valve function. A multi-gated blood-pool image, or MUGA scan, is used to gauge heart strength in terms of how well it pumps blood through its chambers. A cardiopulmonary stress test checks to see how your lungs and heart perform during exercise.


As of yet, there's no known cure for heart failure, but there are steps that can be taken to prevent a weak heart from getting weaker. Diet and exercise are the most effective ways of warding off further problems. A low cholesterol diet can reduce the build-up of cholesterol in the blood and prevent blockage in the arteries. A regular exercise routine works to strengthen the heart muscle and reduces overall stress and tension in the body. Any extra weight will also put additional strain on the heart, so eating right and exercising to maintain a normal body weight is essential.