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Getting to the heart of it

Posted: May 2, 2024

Shedding light on the importance of prevention and early diagnosis of heart failure  

Did you know?

Heart failure (HF) is one of the fastest growing cardiovascular conditions in the world. In Canada, it’s estimated that more than 100,000 Canadians will be diagnosed this year alone, adding to the 750,000 people already living with HF.

NL Health Services has a dedicated, multidisciplinary Cardiology Services team that works collaboratively across the province to care for patients/clients affected by HF. This team includes nurse practitioners, a registered nurse, cardiologists, as well as administrative support.

“There is an urgent and growing need to shed more light on what heart failure is and how it can  be diagnosed early to improve overall outcomes for patients/clients,” says, Rodolfo (Rody) Pike, nurse practitioner with the provincial Cardiac Services team at NL Health Services.

“We want to take the opportunity during HF Awareness Week (May 5-11) to create some awareness that it is not normal to be breathless in the hopes that it will help educate the public, as well as primary health-care providers within the province, to understand a little better about this condition.”

Members of NL Health Services’ Cardiac Services team in Eastern Zone from left to right. (Back) row: Dr. Dave Harnett, Kendra Mouland, RN, Julie Lambe, clerk, Angela Bartlett, NP, and Rodolfo Pike, NP. (Front Row): Joan Nelson (patient).

What is Heart failure?

Heart failure is a chronic condition caused by the heart not functioning as it should, or by a problem with its structure. It can happen if the heart is too weak or too stiff, or both. Anything that damages the heart affects how it functions, including heart attacks, high blood pressure, heart defects and other issues. For many people, these conditions will ultimately lead to heart failure.

What are the symptoms of heart failure? 

  • increased shortness of breath, especially when lying flat — it’s not normal to be short of breath, regardless of age.
  • unexpected weight gain.
  • bloating or feeling full all the time.
  • cough or cold symptoms that last for longer than a week.
  • tiredness, loss of energy or extreme fatigue.
  • loss of or change in appetite.
  • swelling of the ankles, feet, legs, lower back or abdomen
  • increased urination at night.

Although there is no cure for heart failure, lifestyle changes, medication and medical devices like pacemakers, artificial heart valves or pumps can help improve heart function, allowing people to live longer, healthier lives.

About the heart failure clinic

Individuals enrolled in NL Health Services’ heart failure clinic are seen in person or virtually to adjust medication, monitor response to medication, and provide supportive education. The team also makes referrals for other therapies such as device implants, valvular procedures, and more advanced therapies such as transplantation.

“Our team currently provides care to more than 700 patients living with heart failure and we have expanded our services to be able to provide heart failure and virtual care to patients living in more remote locations, such as in parts of Labrador. These patients would have had an initial in-person visit,” says Rody.

Expansion of the virtual care program has helped to decrease wait times and the expense of travel for patients, says Rody, and it also allows patients to get optimal therapy faster. The program includes telephone follow up, bloodwork monitoring and the use of remote monitoring equipment for blood pressure and weight measurement at home.

While the Cardiac Services team works hard to support the growing numbers of patients requiring care; Rody emphasizes that education and prevention will ultimately lead to the best health outcomes overall.

Prevention is possible 

In Newfoundland and Labrador, there are approximately 14,000 people over 40 years of age living with HF, approximately 95 people die every year from HF in Newfoundland and Labrador, and approximately one in 340 people over 40 will be hospitalized.

As more people survive heart attacks and as diabetes rates rise, HF rates will likewise increase. There is an opportunity to prevent HF by managing existing conditions appropriately, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. This can be done by establishing heart-healthy habits like being physically active, eating healthy, being smoke-free and moderating alcohol.

“We’d like to see more people establishing lifestyle changes which will not only prevent HF from occurring in the first place, but also improve their overall health,” says Rody.

May 5-11 is Heart Failure Awareness Week and provides an opportunity to create awareness on this important topic and share information. You can check out the following resources to find out more:

To support your provincial Cardiovascular and Stroke Program, please visit the Health Care Foundation.

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