Congestive Heart Failure – What You Need To Know

Help with Congestive Heart Failure

And what you need to know

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I have talked about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and how those suffering from this can now have access to health professionals from their home using video conference technology. That is of course if people are ready to buy-in to this approach to health care delivery. Because we have been studying this way of connecting nurses and dieticians remotely for three years, we are convinced that this is the future and will put people in charge of their own health. The people who participated in the studies felt much more “in control” and confident managing their disease. They felt that, finally, they understood their condition and could learn about healthier lifestyles and improve their quality of life.


Feeling alone and not being able to get advice can be frightening when you are having trouble breathing. Another chronic disease that affects our breathing is Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a common and serious condition that affects 200 000 to 300 000 people in Canada. It is the leading reason for hospital admission among elderly Canadians. Furthermore, since 1970, the rate of death from CHF has increased by 60%, and the current 5-year survival rate is only 62%.
Congestive heart failure (CHF), or heart failure, is a condition in which the heart can not pump enough blood to the body’s other organs. This can result from

  • narrowed arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle — coronary artery disease
  • past heart attack, or myocardial infarction, with scar tissue that interferes with the heart muscle’s normal work
  • high blood pressure
  • heart valve disease due to past rheumatic fever or other causes
  • primary disease of the heart muscle itself, called cardiomyopathy.
  • heart defects present at birth — congenital heart defects.
  • infection of the heart valves and/or heart muscle itself — endocarditis and/or myocarditis

The “failing” heart keeps working but not as efficiently as it should. People with heart failure can’t exert themselves because they become short of breath and tired.

As the blood flow out of the heart slows, blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing congestion in the tissues. This slow down and congestion causes swelling (edema). Most often there is swelling in the legs and ankles, but it can also occur in other parts of the body. Sometimes fluid collects in the lungs and interferes with breathing, causing shortness of breath, especially when a person is lying down. They end up sleeping on two or three pillows to elevate the head and chest, or in a recliner. Patients often describe having to stand by a window to try to catch their breath. Over time, the symptoms worsen and quality of life suffers. Heart failure is a progressive disease, with the potential for gradual deterioration.

Treatment can slow the progression of the illness. Understanding your condition and how to manage it can increase your confidence in making changes to improve and maintain your health. At the risk of sounding repetitive, the key to feeling better is in our control!  We must learn as much as possible about the condition. Like all diseases, the sooner we diagnose it, the sooner we can begin to monitor and learn how to manage it. All is not doom and gloom. With monitoring, proper medications and learning about the effects of diet and exercise, we can slow the progression and improve how we feel dramatically. With CHF it is important to measure your weight on a regular basis.  One way to do this is to use technology to monitor your weight and have access to health care professionals to learn how weight changes on a daily basis are related to dehydration or fluid retention. These changes effect how medications will be regulated and discussions with nurses and dieticians will help you learn how to avoid crisis and maintain stability.

For more information about how technology in health care can help you, call us at the Telehealth Access Centre: 514-695-3131/5437.