South Edmonton Cardiology Consultants

#306, Millwoods Town Centre Prof Bldg (6203 28Ave NW), Edmonton AB T6L 6K3

PHONE : (780) 757-1371  FAX : (780) 784-1371

Information for Patients

Disclaimer: The brief patient information supplied here and the outside links provided are not intended to replace the advice of your physician and are only meant to help guide patients to formulate questions during their physician appointments. Each patient's situation is unique and a large number of factors are considered when arriving at a management plan for your specific condition. 

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a condition where the heart is too weak (systolic heart failure) or too stiff (diastolic heart failure) to pump blood properly to the body. The body usually tries to compensate by telling the kidneys to retaining salt and water, which leads to fluid retention. This increases the blood volume, but the excess fluid also causes tissue swelling in the legs, abdomen, liver and lungs. Patients usually report leg swelling and/or abdominal bloating and usually experience shortness of breath with exertion. Trouble breathing at night is also common and this is due to the effects of gravity pulling the fluid towards the lungs when lying flat on one's back. 

Until the recent discovery of medications which improve the outlook for patients with systolic heart failure (weak heart muscle), patients with this condition had a severely reduced life expectancy (comparable to those with lung cancer). Most medical textbooks still report a 50% 5-year survival for this condition, but the current outlook for patients treated with modern, advanced treatments is much better than this. Several new life-prolonging medication-based treatments have become available in the last several years and an increasing number of patients are being treated with invasive treatments such as specialized pacemakers, ICDs, LVADs (left-ventricular assist devices, ie: artificial heart). Heart transplantation remains a treatment of last resort for select patients with advanced heart failure, although donor availability has been on the decline over the past decade.

About half of patients with symptoms of heart failure do not have a weak heart, but are unable to fill their heart cavity with blood between heart beats due to a stiff heart (diastolic heart failure). These patients will also have a tendency to retain salt and water and will experience fluid retention just like those with a weak heart muscle (systolic heart failure). Avoiding dietary salt and the use of water pills (diuretics, which eliminate salt via the kidneys) can control the fluid retention, but there are no known treatments which can 'un-stiffen' the heart or alter the long-term outlook for patients with this form of heart failure. Patients with diastolic heart failure tend to be elderly and often have many other medical problems which also need to be addressed (like anemia, kidney failure, etc).