Published on April 9, 2020 at 8:00 / Updated on June 22, 2020 at 20:36

The heart is a muscle that pumps blood to the various organs. Heart failure occurs when the heart loses its ability to pump efficiently and fails to meet the needs of the body. As a result, the blood moves through the body at a slower rate which leads to a variety of symptoms.


Heart failure rarely occurs spontaneously. It usually develops as a result of a heart attack (infarction) or hypertension. Other factors can also contribute to heart failure, including:

  • arrhythmia
  • atherosclerosis
  • diabetes
  • drug or alcohol abuse
  • cardiomyopathy
  • valvular heart disease
  • coronary artery disease
  • poor blood circulation


This disease develops slowly and gradually over time. Because the heart adopts certain compensatory measures (e.g. dilating or beating faster), symptoms may develop much later. Symptoms associated with heart failure include:

  • shortness of breath when lying down
  • almost continual shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • fatigue and feeling of weakness
  • sudden weight gain
  • swollen legs or ankles
  • loss of appetite
  • coughing or wheezing

These symptoms vary and change over time. They also vary as a function of the seriousness of the disease and are more pronounced when the person is lying down. Those who suffer from heart failure often prefer to sleep in a seated position since lying down is extremely uncomfortable.

Heart failure frequently causes the feet and legs to swell. Since the heart has difficulty pumping blood, it tends to accumulate in the extremities. It may also lead to an accumulation of fluid in the lungs which can develop into pulmonary oedema. In fact, the accumulation of fluid in the lungs is what causes the coughing and shortness of breath. It is recommended that those with heart failure constantly monitor their weight as weight gain could be a result of water retention.


Heart failure is diagnosed by a physician or cardiologist. Patients who present symptoms of heart failure must undergo certain examinations. Blood tests and an echocardiography may also be recommended. A heart ultrasound, or echocardiography, is used to measure cardiac ejection fraction which is the proportion of blood released by the heart available to flow through the blood vessels. This data is used to determine the degree of heart failure. Additional examinations such as chest x-rays or an electrocardiogram (ECG) may also prove useful.


Medications commonly used to treat heart failure act in three ways:

  1. by strengthening the heart and normalizing the heartbeat;
  2. by causing the blood vessels to expand allowing blood to flow more easily;
  3. by forcing the kidneys to eliminate fluid to reduce swelling.

These drugs relieve heart failure only temporarily. They have to be taken on a regular basis to maintain ongoing control of heart disease. Several measures can help control the symptoms associated with heart failure and improve the heart's efficacy. These measures include:

  • Reducing fluid intake
  • Reducing salt and fat intake in diet
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Avoiding alcohol and tobacco
  • Exercising regularly
  • Losing excess weight
  • Wearing elastic stockings to help blood flow

For more information or for support :

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

The drugs and pharmaceutical services featured on the website are offered by pharmacists who own the affiliated pharmacies at Familiprix. The information contained on the site is for informational purposes only and does not in any way replace the advice and advice of your pharmacist or any other health professional. Always consult a health professional before taking or discontinuing medication or making any other decision. Familiprix inc. and the proprietary pharmacists affiliated with Familiprix do not engage in any way by making this information available on this website.