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Heart Failure

Heart failure is when the blood flow and oxygen to your body and vital organs is reduced.

This happens when the heart is weakened, stiff or damaged.

Heart failure

There are two main types of heart failure:

  • A weak pump, when the heart muscle is weak and gets larger and "floppy". The heart becomes less effective at pumping blood through the body.
  • A stiff pump, when the heart muscle cannot relax between beats because it has become stiff. The heart cannot properly fill with blood between beats. 
Certain conditions – including Abnormal Heart RhythmCongenital Heart DiseaseDefective Heart ValveCoronary Artery Disease  or heart attack – can leave your heart too weak or stiff to pump enough blood. Heart failure is the end result.

Heart failure cannot be cured and it usually gets worse over time. However, people can learn to live active, healthy lives through a combination of close monitoring, healthy living and medications.

Learning about heart failure


You will need to work together with your health care provider to co-manage your heart failure and achieve your best possible health. Education resources have been developed to help educate you on how to take care of yourself, what signs and symptoms to watch for, and when and who you should contact if your symptoms get worse. The most important heart failure education resources are:


Resources on Care & Support page


Advanced heart failure personal action plan

This communication tool  (PDF) can help you and your family document details about how you want to be cared for. It should be reviewed with your health care provider to ensure he or she understands your personal care priorities and wishes. Additional  resources on advanced care planning

There are many factors that could increase your risk of heart failure. The most common causes include: 

  • heart attack 
  • high blood pressure 
  • heart valve problems 
  • heart defects at birth 
  • lung conditions 
  • excessive use of alcohol or drugs.

Other possible causes of heart failure include: 

  • obesity 
  • sleep apnea 
  • infections affecting the heart muscle 
  • abnormal heart rhythm 
  • conditions such as severe anemia, severe kidney disease or thyroid disease
  • exposure to chemotherapy or radiation. 


Heart failure can cause fluid to back up in your lungs or other parts of your body. This can result in symptoms including:

  • shortness of breath in daily activities and when resting or lying down
  • tiredness
  • lightheadedness or dizziness, especially when standing up, increasing, or starting a new activity
  • fluid retention marked by:
    • sudden weight gain
    • bloating
    • swelling of the ankles, feet, legs, base of spine or abdomen
    • increased urination at night
    • persistent cough
    • loss of, or change, in appetite
    • sense of uneasiness, such as something not feeling right
    • feeling of confusion, trouble thinking clearly


There is no single test for heart failure. Instead, your doctor will do a number of tests. The results of all your tests will be used to determine if you have heart failure.

Tests can include:

  • an echocardiogram to look at the movement of the valves and how well the heart is pumping
  • blood tests to check for certain enzymes
  • a chest x-ray to look at the size of the heart and whether there is fluid in the lungs
  • an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to look at the electrical activity of the heart
  • an exercise stress test to see how the heart responds to exercise
  • a nuclear medicine scan for a close-up of the heart pumping and any damaged areas of the heart
  • an angiogram using diagnostic catheterization to look for blockages in the arteries of the heart


There is no cure for heart failure. Instead, treatment is focused on helping you live a longer and healthier life by:

  • monitoring symptoms 
  • monitoring weight daily, and maintaining a healthy weight
  • managing diet, including limiting sodium, potassium and fluids
  • ensuring daily physical activity
  • managing blood pressure
  • avoiding unhealthy habits, such as smoking (tobacco, cannabis, vaping) and drinking alcohol
  • taking medications as prescribed


For some people, surgery and medical devices are needed to treat the heart failture. Treatments could include:

  • an implanted device, such as a pacemaker and/or cardioverter defibrillator (CRT)
  • coronary artery bypass graft (CABG)
  • ventricular assist device (VAD), to help the heart pump while awaiting heart transplant
  • heart transplant, although not everyone is a good transplant candidate 

Care management

Effective management of heart failure requires a combination of close monitoring of your weight, healthy lifestyle and medications. Your health care providers will work with you and support you to manage your condition.


Your daily activities can have a major impact on the progression of heart failure. It's important for patients and/or their caregivers to play an active role in their health by:

  • monitoring symptoms
  • monitoring your weight daily
  • managing diet might include limiting sodium, fluids and potassium
  • ensuring daily activity 
  • managing blood pressure
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking (tobacco, cannibas, vaping) and drinking alcohol 
  • taking medications as prescribed

Advanced heart disease

Patients with worsening cardiac conditions will reach the point where medical management is no longer identified as meeting their goals of care. 

It's important for the health team, the patient and the family to work in partnership to discuss medical options and make care decisions.

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