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A new report says more needs to be done to help a growing number of Canadians who are living with damaged hearts. About 600,000 people are living with heart failure — an incurable, long-term condition where the heart is not pumping enough blood due to damage from heart attacks and disease, says the Heart and Stroke Foundation study. That growing number is putting a strain on patients, their families and the economy, says David Sculthorpe, CEO of the foundation. "There is so much we need to do as more Canadians develop this chronic, incurable condition — from earlier diagnosis to better end-of-life care and, ultimately, finding ways to help heal these damaged hearts." Depending on the severity of symptoms, about half of heart-failure patients die within five years and most will die within 10 years, the report says. Even with excellent care, heart-failure patients face tough challenges. Marc Bains was a fit 23-year-old when he was diagnosed in 2008 after a cold virus attacked his heart and reduced its function to only 10 per cent. He was put on a heart transplant list and had a tiny defibrillator implanted in his chest. Bains's health improved with treatment, exercise and an improved diet to the point where he was taken off the transplant list, but over the years he has had three cardiac arrests. In 2014, he collapsed on a squash court after his defibrillator failed. He spent five days in an induced coma in hospital and two weeks in intensive care. "You don't get used to heart failure, but in a sense it becomes part of your life," Bains said from Vancouver recently. He estimates that since his diagnosis, he has met with his cardiologist about 60 times. "It is almost a state of mind. Something could happen, but you have to be optimistic that the care you are receiving is going to pull through for you." The report says health care is difficult to navigate for heart-failure patients and there are gaps in care across the country. There is a shortage of specialists, treatment clinics and home-care support. Dr. Justin Ezekowitz, director of the University of Alberta's heart function clinic, said early diagnosis and better treatment are key. "This is a complex disease syndrome and these patients need a lot of care from a lot of different individuals," he said. "Figuring out their risk is really critical." Heart-failure patients are admitted to hospitals more often and for longer periods of time, the report says. Visits have gone up 13 per cent over the last six years, which has put an increased burden on the health system. Hospitalization and emergency room visits due to the condition cost the economy more than $2.8 billion each year. The report calls on governments to improve, expand and better co-ordinate services for diagnosis, treatment, disease management and palliative care. One obstacle is a lack of understanding about heart failure, it says. Many Canadians mistakenly believe the condition is curable or is a normal part of aging.
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