Understanding Heart Failure

Facts about heart failure

  • In a healthy heart, the right amount of blood is pumped to the body each time it beats. Each heartbeat involves the heart relaxing and contracting. When the heart relaxes, it fills up with blood, and when the heart contracts, it pushes blood out of the heart to the body.
  • In a healthy heart, 50-70% of the blood in the heart is pushed out during the contraction phase of the heartbeat. The percentage of blood that leaves the heart during the contraction is called the ejection fraction. A normal ejection fraction is about 50-70%.
  • Heart failure means the heart is not able to pump sufficient blood to meet the demands of the body. It does not mean that the heart has stopped working or is beyond repair.
  • There are two main types of heart failure: heart failure with reduced ejection fraction and heart failure with preserved ejection fraction. These two types are based on your resting ejection fraction.

Causes of heart failure

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Long standing high blood pressure
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Heart valve problems (leaky or tight valves)
  • Abnormal heart rhythms (called arrhythmias)
  • Toxins (like excessive alcohol or certain chemotherapies)
  • Viral infections that affect the heart
  • Congenital heart conditions
  • Generic (inherited) conditions

Symptoms of heart failure vs. symptoms of COVID-19

  • Speak to your doctor or call Telehealth Ontario if you think you might have COVID-19, have travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days, or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Symptoms of heart failure which are similar to COVID-19 symptoms include: cough, shortness of breath, and/or difficultly breathing.
  • Symptoms of COVID-19 which are different than heart failure include: fever, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, and/or runny nose.

Self-management and treatment of heart failure

  • Follow the Heart Failure Zones handout: Download the Heart Failure Zones handout, and reference this handout daily to determine which zone you are in.
  • Monitor your body weight: Weigh yourself daily on your home scale after going to the bathroom and before breakfast. Write your weight down on a calendar, a weight log, or your exercise diary, and compare it to yesterday’s weight.
  • Monitor your diet (fluid & sodium): Limit your fluid intake to 6-8 cups (1500-2000 ml or 48-64 ounces every 24 hours). This includes all liquids, such as drinks (water, coffee/tea etc.) and fluid-based foods (soup etc.).  Do not add salt to your foods and eat foods that are low in salt. For help with your diet, book an appointment with our Registered Dietitian.
  • Engage in regular physical activity and exercise: Aim to accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of aerobic-based exercise every week, and resistance training at least 2 days per week. Daily regular activity is also very important. View our section on Exercise & Vascular Health for more information.
  • Take you medications as prescribed: Always take your medications as prescribed.  Medications have been proven to improve how you feel, enable you to live longer, and prevent the need to be admitted to hospital. If you are having trouble adhering to your medication routine, speak to your pharmacist or family doctor. View our section on Heart Failure Medications for more information.
  • Smoking cessation: Aim to completely eliminate exposure to smoke (tobacco and/or cannabis). Speak to your Exercise Therapist to be referred to the program smoking cessation service.
  • Manage your stress: There are several steps you can take to relieve stress and take control of the stress in your life.  Speak to your Exercise Therapist, doctor, or specialist if you are having trouble coping with stress.  For more information, view our section on Stress & Your Health. 

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