How can seniors lower the risk of heart failure?

Excerpt: Congestive heart failure is one of the most common and serious forms of heart disease affecting older Canadians, and a leading cause of hospitalization. Coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and heart attacks are the most frequent causes of heart failure. The best way to prevent heart failure is through heart-healthy habits and by managing conditions that can lead to the disease.

February is Heart Month in Canada.* Congestive heart failure is one of the most common and serious forms of heart disease affecting older Canadians. More than 650,000 Canadians are living with heart failure, reports the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and over 80% of those with heart failure are 65 or older.*

Despite its name, heart failure doesn’t mean the heart has completely failed or stopped working. Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is damaged or weakened and the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet its needs,* says the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada.

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

Heart failure symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A sudden gain of more than 2.5 kg (5 pounds) in a week
  • Bloating or feeling full all the time
  • Long-lasting cough symptoms
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Loss or change in appetite
  • Increased urination at night
  • Increased swelling of the ankles, feet, legs, base of the spine or abdomen.*

Contact your doctor if any of these symptoms occur. Several tests may be done to determine if you have this condition,* and how it should be treated and managed.

Preventing congestive heart failure

The most common conditions that can lead to congestive heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and heart attacks,* according to the American Heart Association. Others that can lead to it include abnormal heart valves, heart muscle disease, congenital heart disease, poorly controlled diabetes, obesity and sleep apnea.*

The best way to prevent congestive heart failure is by preventing or carefully managing the conditions that contribute to it,* advises Johns Hopkins Medicine. You can lower the risk or manage these conditions by eating a heart-healthy diet, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and taking appropriate medications, if needed.*

Managing heart failure

While heart failure cannot be cured, many people can lead active, healthy lives by managing the disease well.* To lessen symptoms and improve quality of life, limit salt and fluid intake, avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine consumption, take medications as prescribed, eat healthy foods, be physically active without straining the heart, reduce stress and get adequate rest and sleep.*

Chronic heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization for seniors,* reports the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology. If symptoms worsen or new symptoms occur, call your doctor to get timely treatment and avoid waiting until symptoms become so severe that emergency treatment is needed.

*The following sources are references for this blog in order of appearance:

1. University of Ottawa Heart Institute. “February is Hearth Month.” (2020), online:;jsessionid=00000000.app20116b?NONCE_TOKEN=E04138F626EAFF081D5F768958AD9040&pagename=HeartMonth2020_Home&s_locale=en_CA

2. Public Health Agency of Canada. “Heart disease in Canada: Highlights from the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System.” (2017), online:

3. Government of Canada. “Data Blog. Heart disease in Canada. (2018), online:

4. Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada. “The burden of heart failure.” (2017), online:

5. American Heart Association. “Causes of heart failure.” (2017), online:

6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Congestive heart failure: prevention, treatment and research.” (2020), online:

7. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology. “Management of chronic heart failure in the older population.” (2014), online: