Heart failure significantly increases the risk of serious comorbidities

Heart failure rarely comes alone

Around four million people in Germany are affected by heart failure (heart failure). The weakened heart affects not only the circulation, but the entire organism. Conversely, complaints in other organs in turn affect the heart and promote heart failure. Heart experts explain the complex interplay between the heart and other organs and how this can lead to numerous, sometimes serious, secondary diseases.

Depression, weakened immune system, kidney disease and even cancer - people with heart failure are at increased risk of numerous comorbidities. The heart is essential for the proper functioning of vital organs. If the heart is weakened, this can also affect other parts of the body. The German Center for Heart Failure in Würzburg has now invited leading heart specialists to collect the latest findings on the subject of heart failure.

Heart failure affects the entire body

Heart failure is difficult to treat because it affects almost the entire body. The weakened heart triggers a complicated interplay of inflammation, metabolic processes and stress hormones, which can manifest itself through various concomitant diseases. Knowledge of several disciplines is required to better understand these overarching processes. The Würzburg University Hospital now wants to promote dialogue between basic researchers, clinicians and imaging experts in order to improve the understanding, diagnosis and therapy of the systemic heart failure.

Heart and brain - an inseparable duo

"Without a healthy brain, the heart cannot fulfill its tasks and vice versa," emphasizes Professor Dr. Jürgen Deckert from the Center for Mental Health at the University Hospital Würzburg explains the relationship between the two organs. If one of these two organs is weakened, this also affects the other. For example, psychological stress or a stroke could result in heart failure. However, a weakened heart muscle can also lead to depression and poor memory.

Diabetes promotes heart failure

The experts also report on the complex interplay between diabetes and heart failure. On the one hand, risk factors such as high blood pressure, fat metabolism disorders and being overweight also promote the occurrence of heart failure. On the other hand, an increased blood sugar level goes hand in hand with an increased risk of heart failure. Among other things, this would be due to an increased storage of fats in the energy power plants (mitochondria) of the heart muscle cells, as well as a pathological increase in the connective tissue.

A weakened heart favors cancer

The discovery that heart failure is also linked to cancer is relatively new. "New data suggest that cancer is more common in heart failure patients," adds Professor Dr. Rudolf de Boer added. He is an examiner for translational cardiology at the University Medical Center in Groningen in the Netherlands and examines the connection between heart damage and cancer.

How the heart affects the immune system

People with heart failure often have a weakened immune system. "Immune cells penetrate our internal organs like a network," reports Professor Dr. Matthias Nahrendorf from the Center for Systems Biology at Harvard University in Boston (USA). These immune cells normally protect the heart. In some cases, these cells could also turn against the organism and promote inflammation. The professor sees the future in the treatment of heart failure in immunotherapy, which is mainly used to treat cancer. "If we understand the mechanisms that regulate inflammation, new therapy options arise," explains the expert. Immunotherapy for cancer shows the way here.

Heart and kidney: one carries the other along

There is also an inseparable connection between the heart and kidneys. For example, impaired kidney function can damage the heart and vascular system, and poor cardiac output in turn can damage the kidneys. A team led by Professor Dr. Christoph Wanner is currently conducting three studies in which salt excretion and the reduction in plasma volume to improve diastolic heart failure are examined. The progression of kidney disease could also be curbed in this way.

New glimmers of hope

Heart damage has so far been largely considered irreversible. The interaction of the various disciplines has opened up new ways of treating heart failure. In addition to the immunotherapy already mentioned, there are several innovative treatment approaches. For example, the low regeneration power of the heart muscle cells could be massively increased by stimulation. In addition, cardiac muscle cells grown in the laboratory can either be injected into the heart or sewn onto the heart as a kind of patch. For more information, read the article: "New heart patch strengthens the heart after an infarction".

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • University Hospital Würzburg: If heart failure does not only affect the heart, (accessed on June 22, 2019)

Video: Heart Failure: Comorbidities (January 2022).