One person in five is expected to develop heart failure in developed countries, a disease with no cure but which is largely preventable.
The Heart Failure Association (HFA) of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) is calling for greater public awareness of heart failure symptoms as countries across Europe hold events for Heart Failure Awareness Day on 8, 9 and 10 May.
Professor Andrew L Clark, chair of the British Society for Heart Failure (BSH), said: "For patients with untreated heart failure it feels as if every breath in and out is through a narrow straw. Their prognosis is worse than for most forms of cancer. But treatment at least doubles life expectancy and many cases could be prevented if patients knew what do to."
Heart failure is a life threatening disease that affects 26 million people worldwide and has a striking impact on quality of life. Patients are often scared, anxious and depressed. Those with breathlessness and extreme fatigue find work, travel and socialising difficult. Up to 45% of patients admitted to hospital with heart failure die within 1 year of admission and the majority die within 5 years.
Most types of heart failure are preventable and risk diminishes with a healthy lifestyle. After the disease has developed, premature deaths could be prevented if people were taught to recognise the symptoms and seek immediate medical attention.
The principal warning signs of heart failure are:
• Increasing swelling of the legs, starting with ankles and working upward
• Getting more breathless, particularly lying flat or waking you at night.
Public awareness of heart failure symptoms is dangerously low. The risk of death increases when hospital treatment is delayed by just 4 to 6 hours after symptoms occur, but many patients do not contact a doctor for hours or even days despite obvious warning signs. Patients say they did not seek treatment immediately because they "did not think symptoms were heart related" or the symptoms were "not that severe at first." Most patients wrongly think heart failure is not serious or is a normal part of ageing.
A healthy lifestyle decreases the risk of heart failure. Being physically active, eating a healthy diet and not smoking all have positive effects and lower the likelihood of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, which are also risk factors for heart failure.
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