Heart Failure: The Time to Act is Now!

by Estrellita Estrella-Holder
For the National Heart Failure Awareness Week Committee, Canadian Heart Failure Society

Heart failure cases continue to rise. There are over 600,000 people living with heart failure in Canada and this number increases by 50,000 every year1. Heart failure affects people of all ages. There has been a 12% increase in heart failure hospitalization in the last decade especially in adult ages 30-39 years2. Heart failure is common in the elderly as well. It is the second most reason for hospitalization in people over age 65. Even though the cases of heart failure are on the rise, many people in Canada do not understand heart failure. More than 1 in 4 people in Canada do not know what heart failure is and almost half incorrectly think it can be cured1.

Heart failure is a complex syndrome that occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. The common symptoms are shortness of breath, leg swelling, and fatigue. There are many reasons why someone develops heart failure. The most common causes are coronary artery disease and high blood pressure. Other causes include diabetes, heart valve that are not working properly, excessive use of alcohol and harmful drugs, infection causing inflammation of the heart muscle, arrhythmia (irregularities in heart beats), pregnancy, and other conditions such as thyroid disease and at times unknown causes.

As you can see, some causes of heart failure are preventable. Avoid excessive use of alcohol and stop taking harmful drugs, if you are using these harmful substances. You will need to work with your health care provider to control some conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes to reduce your risk of heart failure. If you already have heart failure, you will need to have your high blood pressure and/ or your diabetes under control to reduce the rate of progression of heart failure.

Heart failure can not be cured but there are treatments that can help people with heart failure feel better and live longer. People with heart failure often need help from several health care providers such as doctors, nurses, dietitian, pharmacist, and many others. They also need support from family members and other social support. They need to be an active participant in their own care.

So, if you have been diagnosed with heart failure, how can you actively participate in your care? You will need to cut down your salt and restrict fluid intake, eat a healthy diet, take medications as prescribed, be smoke free and be physically active. Ask your health care provider what you can do to help prevent your heart failure symptoms from getting worse. You need to learn about your symptoms. Follow up with your health care team so they can help you recognize symptoms. They can help you build an action plan, so you know what to do when you notice a change in how you feel. Even during pandemic, it is important to follow up with your health care team on a regular basis. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to learn to live with heart failure. It is good to share how you feel with your health care team and with your loved ones. There are support groups available. Talking about your experience with others can help you understand that you are not alone with this illness.

Heart failure is a serious condition. Talking about your wishes in advance will help to make sure that any decision that may need to be made for you in emergency, are the ones that you would have wanted. This is called advance care planning. More information about advance care planning is available online at www.advancecareplanning.ca. There are many associations in Canada that may be able to support those affected by heart failure including the Canadian Heart Failure Society (www.heartfailure.ca), Heart Life Foundation (www.heartlife.ca), Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (www.heartandstrokefoundation.ca/heartfailue), Canadian Council of Cardiovascular Nurses, Quebec Heart Failure Society, Canadian Association of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation ( Reh-Fit Centre and The Wellness Institute in Manitoba) , the Heart Failure Support Group of Manitoba ( see their Facebook page or call 204 694-6801 and leave a message).

Canada will be celebrating the National Heart Failure Awareness Week on May 3-9, 2021. Learn more about heart failure and activities being offered during the National Heart Failure Awareness Week by checking the Canadian Heart Failure Society website at www.heartfailure.ca and click National Heart Failure Awareness Week.

1. 2016 Report in the Health of Canadians. Heart and Stroke Foundation
2. 2019 Heart and Stroke’s analysis of hospital administrative data from Canadian Institute for Health Information’s Discharge Abstract Database.