Living with Heart Failure

Nearly 600,000 Canadians live with chronic heart failure, but with tailored self-care plans, many patients can improve their physical function and overall well-being.  According to research by McMaster University’s Optimal Aging Portal, exercise, psychological strategies, and home or heart failure clinic visits can help improve health outcomes for heart failure patients. 

Symptoms of chronic heart failure include feeling tired and weak, having difficulty focusing, wheezing, a fast or irregular heartbeat, being short of breath during activity, or while laying down, and sudden weight gain due to fluid retention.  Swelling (edema) in the legs, ankles, and feet and a persistent cough with white or pink-tinged phlegm can also be symptoms of congestive heart failure.  

According to the Mayo Clinic, heart failure occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t pump blood effectively; coronary artery disease and high blood pressure can gradually weaken the heart over time and cause it to be too weak or stiff to fill and pump as it should.  Lifestyle treatments including exercise, lowering sodium in the diet, managing stress, and losing weight can all help improve quality of life and potentially extend life. 

In addition to eating a healthy diet and participating in a doctor-approved exercise program, studies have found that creating a tailored self-care plan that includes decision aids to help make difficult choices and strategies to provide motivation and manage negative thoughts are also beneficial.  Aerobic training and strength training or in-pool exercises have all been found to be instrumental in improving physical function and overall well-being. 

Because many people with heart failure face hospitalization, and re-hospitalization after coming home, it’s also important to make a transitional health care plan to meet patient needs at home following discharge.  Some patients benefit from in-home or telehealth visits, or by attending heart failure clinics.  Participating in support programs after leaving the hospital can reduce the risk of being readmitted and for death within six months of initial hospitalization as a result of heart failure. 

Learn more about heart failure, its causes, symptoms, and treatment options by following this link to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation website.