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Santé Montréal

Hearth Failure

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The heart is a muscle and its role is to pump blood and nutrients through the circulatory system to provide each organ with the nutrients it needs to function. Heart failure occurs when the heart is no longer able to pump enough blood to meet the body's energy needs because of impairment to the muscle or the valves. Heart failure can be chronic or acute.

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The symptoms of chronic heart failure are as follows:

  • Shortness of breath upon exertion or when lying down
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Swelling in the legs or abdomen
  • Coughing and shortness of breath at night
  • Unexplained weight gain

The symptoms of acute heart failure are as follows:

  • Symptoms similar to those listed above, but the onset is much more sudden and intense
  • Chest pain if the heart failure is caused by acute infarction
  • Palpitations

Some factors may trigger or aggravate symptoms

  • Viral or bacterial infection
  • Anemia
  • Excessive consumption of liquids or salty foods
  • Starting or stopping certain medications
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When to Consult

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Protection and prevention

Certain habits can help you better control heart failure:


  • Only drink the prescribed amount of liquids.
  • Follow a low-sodium diet.
  • Weigh yourself every day.

Take medication as prescribed and always check with your pharmacist to ensure that any new medications—even over-the-counter drugs—are compatible with your existing drug regimen.

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Risk factors

A number of diseases can cause heart failure:

  • Coronary artery disease, which may or may not be a result of myocardial infarction
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Diabetes
  • Heart valve problems
  • Heart muscle diseases (cardiomyopathy or myocarditis)
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Congenital heart problems (birth defects)
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Help and Resources

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Heart failure is first treated with medication to eliminate any accumulated water from the lungs, legs, etc. and lessen the heart's workload. Medication may also be administered to control the cause (e.g., hypertension, diabetes).

In certain cases (e.g., a heart valve problem), heart failure may be treated with surgery or another type of procedure.

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People at Risk

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Éditée par : Institut de cardiologie de Montréal.
Dernière mise à jour le : 2017.03.16