About the Disease

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Heart failure develops when your heart muscle weakens to the point that it doesn’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.

An alternative, but equally disabling, mechanism underlying heart failure is when the heart stiffens so much that it can no longer relax properly.  In many cases, both of these mechanisms coexist – such that the heart neither pumps well, nor relaxes well.

As more people with damaged hearts live longer, heart failure is on the rise in Canada and around the world.

Visit our heart failure patient website for much more information about this disease.

Causes

In children, who are not immune to this disease, the two most common causes of heart failure are congenital heart disease (malformed hearts and blood vessels from birth) and cardiomyopathy (which can be either an acquired or intrinsic heart muscle disease). For adults, high blood pressure and heart attacks are by far the leading causes of heart failure, followed by valve diseases, viral infections of the heart and idiopathic (spontaneous cases with no known cause) cardiomyopathy.

A wide range of other factors can cause or contribute to heart failure, including obesity, high cholesterol, other medical conditions such as diabetes and a variety of inflammatory and infectious diseases, as well as the adverse effects of drugs used to treat cancer. Indeed, several new biological and non-biological medications can have heart failure as a potential complication or side effect of their usage. This requires clinicians and patients from different areas of medicine to remain vigilant of the symptoms and signs of heart failure.

Symptoms & Signs

Core symptoms of heart failure are swelling in the feet and legs, fatigue, shortness of breath, or an inability to lie flat in bed. Other indicators of the disease can include abdominal swelling, cough, appetite loss, nausea, difficulty concentrating, cold extremities, and the feeling that one’s heart is beating too fast or pounding (a.k.a. palpitations).

Treatments

While we search for a cure, there are medications and medical devices that can help patients live longer, avoid hospitalization and feel better. Paying attention to one’s intake of fluids and sodium is a critical aspect of lifestyle changes that can make a real difference, as well as exercise and techniques to reduce stress.

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