Calgary

Heart failure affects 600,000 Canadians, Heart and Stroke Foundation says

A new report is raising alarms about the number of Canadians living with heart failure, and the cost to the health care system is significant.

Cost to healthcare system as high as $400 million, doctor says

Twenty years ago, Dave Jensen went into heart failure while playing his tuba. He still requires regular medical treatment (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

At 19, heart troubles were the last thing Dave Jensen expected to have.

"I was playing in concert in Cranbrook, British Columbia and I all of a sudden had chest pain," Jensen recalled. 

"I thought it was because I was really enjoying my tuba and blowing very, very hard. And I had injured myself."

Jensen was eventually diagnosed with heart failure, and ended up having a heart transplant. Twenty years later, he still needs regular medical care.

He is one of the growing number of Canadians contending with the chronic condition, which leaves the heart unable to pump blood as well as it should.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 600 thousand people nationwide are living with heart failure.

In Alberta, about 80,000 people are dealing with the disease, and the cost to the healthcare system is staggering.

​"It's a huge concern," said Calgary cardiologist Dr. Todd Anderson. Once released from hospital many heart patients end up being readmitted. 

"'I've had a few adventures with infections here and there, because your immune system is compromised with the medications," said Jensen. He had contracted a virus that caused his heart to swell to three times its regular size, which then sent him into heart failure. 

Anderson said the cost of looking after heart failure in Alberta is in the order of $300-400 million per year.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation report suggests better training for family doctors, more communication between physicians and beefed up home care supports would improve care in the community and help reduce costs.

By the numbers

  • 600,000: Canadians with heart failure.

  • 50,000: New cases diagnosed per year

  • $2.8 billion: Direct cost of the disease in Canada

  • 13%: Relative increase in hospital visits for over the past six years
    Hospital visits due to heart failure have gone up every year for the past six years, with 60,000 reported in 2013–2014.

  • 1 in 5: Heart failure patients who end up back in hospital within 30 days

  • 30%: Heart failure patients who experience depression.

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