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Heart failure symptoms traced to unusual source – Health

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians struggle to survive and take in air because of heart failure. Now scientists in Ontario and New Brunswick have discovered a cause, involving the brain, that rewrites medical textbooks. 

It’s estimated about 600,000 Canadians, among the more than 23 million worldwide, are living with heart failure.

Newly released findings uncover why heart failure labours breathing to such an extent that everyday tasks like walking become difficult. 

Many people with heart failure have shortness of breath, known in medical circles as dyspnea.

“What we were able to find is the true cause of respiratory weakness or dyspneas as being the brain,” said the study’s lead author, Jeremy Simpson, a professor of human health and nutritional sciences at the University of Guelph.

For cardiologists, improving survival rates in heart failure is the priority.

Twenty-five per cent of those diagnosed in Ontario won’t be alive in one year, says cardiologist Dr. Peter Liu, chief scientific officer of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

“In heart failure, the patient definitely suffers a lot and so if there are ways in which we can improve not only the survival but also improve the quality of life I think that’s really a win,” Liu said.

Mouse heart and lungs, with arrows indicating obstruction points that cause heart failure and diaphram weakening. (A.J. Foster et al/Science Translational Medicine)

That’s where the findings of a study in this week’s issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine might come in.

Simpson and his colleagues at the University of Guelph in Ontario and Dalhousie University explored how respiratory weakness contributes to dyspnea in mice models of heart failure.

Over nearly six years of painstaking experiments, Simpson’s team discovered that the diaphragm, a large muscle that helps with breathing function, doesn’t work as well in mice models because of faulty signals it receives from the…

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