A diagnosis of heart failure can be frightening. The Know your heart: living with heart failure education program from NPS MedicineWise and the Heart Foundation is about helping people living with heart failure and their carers understand that while heart failure is a serious condition, the good news is that effective treatments are available. Recognising heart failure early and taking an active role in its management can help people with heart failure feel better, stay out of hospital and live a longer healthier life.
Heart failure is a condition where your heart isn’t pumping blood around your body as well as it should. There are 480,000 Australians affected by heart failure and it is associated with high rates of hospitalisation and death. Only 1 in 2, or half of people with heart failure are alive 5 years after diagnosis – a figure that earlier diagnosis and better heart failure management could improve.
“Don’t ignore breathlessness and fatigue,” says Dr Jill Thistlethwaite, NPS MedicineWise medical adviser and GP.
“These are not part of normal ageing and should be investigated - they could be signs of heart failure so it is important to talk to your doctor,” she says.
Richard Brightwell is a 74 year-old retired associate professor from Perth. He says a lot of people wouldn’t recognise the symptoms of heart failure – they can be quite insidious.
“For me, it was discovered I had heart failure when I had a wound on my toe that took a very long time to heal. This was due to poor blood circulation which was found together with a faulty heart valve, high blood pressure and an irregular heart beat,” says A/Prof Brightwell
“Looking back, there were other signs that I didn’t pick up, like fluid build-up around my waist. I just thought it was a sign of ageing and getting fat, even though I wasn’t eating much,” he says.
An echocardiogram (an ‘echo’) is an ultrasound of the heart and is an important investigation to help your doctor diagnose and classify heart failure and guide the treatment plan.
Managing heart failure has many elements which may change over time. A heart failure action plan developed with your health professional will help you to identify what elements to focus on. These may include taking medicines, setting and working towards exercise and weight management goals, knowing where to find support and what to do if your symptoms worsen.
“If you have heart failure, taking an active role can make such a difference to your quality of life,” says Dr Thistlethwaite.
“This means taking your heart failure medicines as directed, even if you are feeling well. Some medicines for other conditions, for example ibuprofen for pain, can make heart failure worse, so keeping track of all of your medicines is important.
“Taking an active role means you may need to monitor your salt and fluid intake and watch for sudden changes in weight and fluid build-ups. Depending on the situation, as part of your action plan, you may need to contact your doctor for advice,” she says.
The national education campaign from NPS MedicineWise and the Heart Foundation includes education activities and resources for health professionals and consumers in an information hub. Resources are provided to help people understand more about heart failure and how to take an active role in its management. This includes a template heart failure action plan, a heart failure fact sheet, information videos and further online information and linked resources.