In heart failure: these serious comorbidities threaten


A heart failure rarely comes alone.

About four million people in Germany suffer from heart failure (heart failure). The weakened heart affects not only the circulatory system, but the whole organism. On the other hand, discomfort in other organs affects the heart and favors heart failure. Cardiac specialists explain the complex interaction between the heart and other organs and how this can lead to numerous, sometimes serious, side effects.

Depression, weakening of the immune system, kidney disease and even cancer patients suffering from heart failure are at increased risk of numerous comorbidities. The heart is critical to the proper functioning of vital organs. If the heart is weakened, it can also affect other parts of the body. The German Center for Heart Failure in Würzburg has invited leading cardiology experts to gather the latest findings on heart failure.

Heart failure (heart failure) often affects other organs. Similarly, damage to other parts of the body can promote heart failure. (Image: psdesign1 /

Heart Failure Affects Whole Body

Heart failure is difficult to treat as it affects almost the entire body. The weakened heart triggers a complex interaction of inflammation, metabolic processes and stress hormones, which can manifest through various comorbidities. To better understand these comprehensive processes, knowledge of various disciplines is required. The University Hospital of Würzburg now wants to promote dialogue between basic researchers, clinicians and imaging specialists to improve understanding, diagnosis and treatment of heart failure with systemic disease.

Heart and brain – an inseparable duo

"Without a healthy brain, the heart can not fulfill its tasks and vice versa," emphasizes Professor Dr. med. Jürgen Deckert, from the Mental Health Center of the University Hospital of Würzburg, links the two bodies. If one of these two organs is weakened, it also affects the other. For example, psychological stress or stroke can cause heart failure. But even a weakened heart muscle can lead to depression and memory weakness.

Diabetes promotes heart failure

Experts also report the complex interaction between diabetes and heart failure. On the one hand, risk factors such as hypertension, disorders of lipid metabolism and obesity also favor the occurrence of heart failure. On the other hand, however, a high blood sugar level is directly associated with an increased risk of heart failure. This is due, inter alia, to an increase in fat storage at power plants (mitochondria) of cardiac muscle cells, as well as to a pathological increase in connective tissue.

A weakened heart favors cancers

Relatively new is the perception that heart failure is also associated with cancer. "New data suggest that cancers are more common in patients with heart failure," adds the professor. Rudolf de Boer added. He specializes in translational cardiology at the University Medical Center in Groningen, the Netherlands, and investigates the relationship between heart disease and cancer.

How the Heart Affects the Immune System

People with heart failure usually have a weakened immune system. "Immune cells strengthen our internal organs as a network," says Professor Dr. Med. Matthias Nahrendorf, from the Center for Systems Biology at Harvard University in Boston (USA). These immune cells usually protect the heart. In some cases, however, these cells may also turn against the body and promote inflammation. The professor sees in immunotherapy, which is used primarily for the treatment of cancer, the future in the treatment of heart failure. "Understanding the mechanisms that regulate inflammation opens new treatment options," explains the specialist. Immunotherapy for cancer is the way to go.

Heart and kidney: one leads the other with

There is also an inseparable connection between the heart and the kidneys. Thus, faulty renal function could damage the heart and vascular system, and poor cardiac output could lead to kidney damage. A team led by dr. Christoph Wanner is currently conducting three studies investigating salt secretion and reducing plasma volume to improve diastolic heart failure. The progression of kidney disease can also be contained in this way.

New hope shimmer

The damage to the heart so far has been largely irreversible. However, the interaction of different disciplines opened new avenues for the treatment of heart failure. In addition to the immunotherapy already mentioned, there are several innovative approaches to treatment. For example, the low regenerative power of cardiac muscle cells can be massively increased by stimulation. In addition, lab-grown heart muscle cells can be injected into the heart or sewn into the heart as a type of adhesive. For more information, read the article: "New heart adhesive strengthens the heart after a heart attack."


Graduate Editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • University Hospital of Würzburg: If heart failure is not just about the heart, (retrieved: 22.06.2019)


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