Heart Failure is a condition that affects around 900,000 people in the UK. Research shows that the number of patients coming to hospital with an incurable condition has risen by over a third in the last ten years. This condition can affect people of different ages, sometimes leaving patients unable to continue their everyday activities- such as walking up the stairs.
Unfortunately, heart failure can be very serious – a third of those admitted to hospital with heart failure die within 12 months. Furthermore, severe heart failure is incurable and the life expectancy is worse than that of many cancers. This drastic increase in the number of people affected by heart failure means its important that we are aware of the symptoms and know what to do if we find ourselves or other loved ones worried about heart health.
What is Heart Failure?
Having heart failure does not mean that your heart will stop working- it simply means that it needs some extra support, which can be provided by treatment and certain types of medicines. Heart Failure is when the heart is unable to pump enough blood around the body, at the right pressure. This is often because the heart muscle has become too weak or too stiff.
What Causes Heart Failure?
There is no one single cause that causes heart failure. Instead, there are a number of causes that, when experienced together, can cause the heart to fail. The conditions that can contribute to heart failure are:
- Coronary heart disease. This disease sees the arteries which supply blood to the heart become blocked by fatty substances, and can result in angina or a heart attack.
- Heart valve disease, where the valves are damaged.
- Heart rhythm disturbance, also known as atrial fibrillation.
- High blood pressure or hypertension. This common symptom can put extra strain on the heart.
- Heart muscle weakness. The heart muscle can become weak due to different reasons – from genetics, to side effects of medication, to the misuse of alcohol.
What Are The Symptoms?
As heart failure can be the result of many different causes, or combinations of causes, the symptoms can vary from person to person. The main symptoms of heart failure are extreme tiredness, swollen ankles and breathlessness- however, these symptoms can be caused by other less serious underlying problems, such as being overweight.
Breathlessness is a serious problem if you become breathless while laying flat, or if you wake up in the middle of the night with this problem. If you suffer from breathlessness, then it’s worth going to see your GP who may suggest that you have a test to indicate whether heart failure may be an underlying cause.
The same is true for swollen ankles. If you find your ankles are better in the morning but become more swollen as the day progresses, then this could be a sign of heart failure and it’s best to visit your GP who can organise further tests if they feel it is necessary.
Aside from the two main symptoms, there are other indicators of heart failure. These include:
- loss of appetite
- rapid heart rate
- a persistent cough
- weight lossAs all of these symptoms can be caused by other medical conditions it can be difficult to establish whether heart failure is the cause, so when you do visit your GP, remember to discuss every symptom with them, even if you think it’s not related.
Concerned About Your Heart?
There are many ways you can manage and decrease your risk of heart failure before it becomes a problem. Keep your blood pressure healthy and your cholesterol low by:
- Eating well and avoiding excess salt
- Cutting back on alcohol
- Stopping smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
If you are concerned about your heart health then book an appointment with your GP, who will talk through your symptoms in detail, and organise some further tests if they suspect they could be attributed to heart failure. Tests might include a breathing test, blood tests, an ECG which records the electrical activity of your heart, or possibly even a echocardiogram, where sound waves are used to examine your heart and its health, similar to a sonogram used during pregnancy.
Heart failure not only affects the sufferer, but also the families of those affected. The British Heart Foundation have created the Mending Broken Hearts Appeal which has so far raised £25 million for research into regenerative medicine across the UK. However, as heart failure continues to rise, more funds and research is needed. You can help by visiting the BHF website and finding out about the different ways you can help fund heart failure research – from playing the lottery, to taking part in charity bike rides, to making a one off donation – it all helps.
You can read more about heart health on the NHS Choices website.