More awareness of heart failure needed

Condition affects 90,000 in Ireland
  • Deborah Condon

A new campaign aims to increase awareness of heart failure, a potentially life-threatening condition which many people do not fully understand.

With heart failure, the heart is not working as well as it should be. It cannot pump enough blood around the body because the walls of the heart have become too weak or too stiff to work properly. Around 90,000 people in Ireland are affected.

The Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) has launched a new campaign, ‘Don't Ignore the Signs of Heart Failure', in order to increase people's knowledge and empower those who may be experiencing symptoms, to visit their doctor.

Warning signs include shortness of breath, swollen ankles and fatigue, however people with heart failure can live a full and active life if the condition is detected and treated early.

As part of the campaign, the IHF commissioned research which found that 43% of adults thought that heart failure meant the heart was stopping or shutting down, most likely confusing the condition with cardiac arrest.

Just 23% were aware that heart failure actually means that the heart does not pump as well as it should.

Meanwhile, the research also found that while the vast majority of people were aware that shortness of breath was a warning sign of the condition, 61% were unaware that swollen ankles were also a sign, while 34% did not know that fatigue was.

Many people also mistakenly thought that the symptoms of heart failure were similar to those of a heart attack, such as pain in the chest or arm.

"I was not surprised to see in our research that the majority of people mistakenly think heart failure means that your heart stops. In our experience at the IHF, the word ‘failure' is scary and many people don't want to confront it.

"This awareness campaign aims to educate people about the actual symptoms of heart failure, which people should be vigilant for, and to also reassure people that heart failure can be managed if diagnosed and treated early," explained consultant cardiologist and IHF medical director, Dr Angie Brown.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign, recently retired sports broadcaster, Michael Lyster, who has heart failure, urged people to be vigilant about their health.

Mr Lyster said that it is ‘human nature to try to explain away symptoms when we are ill' as we do not want to face the reality that something might be wrong. However, looking back, he was experiencing all the classic symptoms of heart failure.

"I was constantly tired, my ankles were swollen, and I would wake up at night panting for breath, but I didn't want to admit something was wrong for a long time.

"This situation really became pronounced for me at the height of Sunday Game season in 2012, so I put it down to my hectic schedule. Thankfully, I eventually heeded the signs and got professional help before it was too late. Don't ignore the signs of heart failure. I would urge anyone experiencing shortness of breath, fatigue and swollen ankles to contact their GP without delay," he said.

Mr Lyster said he is now greatly enjoying his retirement because he is looking after this health.

"While I thoroughly enjoyed my career, I have to say that I am relishing my retirement, spending more time doing other things I love and enjoying quality time with my family. I'm able to do this by actively looking after my health.

"It is possible to live well with heart failure and it doesn't have to slow you down once treated properly. I still enjoy everything, even my rally driving, but the key is to heed the warning signs and be smart about managing your health," he added.

As part of the campaign, the IHF has developed a free online symptom checker to help people identify if they are experiencing heart failure symptoms. It is available on the campaign website here.

Meanwhile, as part of the campaign, the IHF will host a series of public information meetings nationwide next month. To register to attend these free events, or for more information on the campaign, visit KnowYourHeart.ie

*Pictured is former sports broadcaster, Michael Lyster


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