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Heart Failure

The global burden of heart failure is rising

At any one time, the number of cases of heart failure worldwide has been estimated at 26 million2. Add in the estimated number of undiagnosed cases and the figure rises to 37.7 million3, with increasing numbers reported every year. Despite the fact that many cardiovascular diseases end in heart failure, the condition too often fails to attract the awareness and emphasis it deserves.

1 in every 5 people will develop heart failure in their lifetimes

Heart failure is a severe condition that occurs when your heart doesn’t pump enough blood around your body. It can be either acute and come on suddenly, or a progressive, long-term condition. The symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath that gets worse over time
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Fluid retention with swelling of the legs and/or abdomen
  • Being less able to do physically demanding tasks or exercise

 There are an estimated 11.7 million cases of undiagnosed heart failure globally

There are many possible causes, including:

  • Heart attack
  • Neglected and rare diseases, such as Chagas, rheumatic heart disease, Kawasaki disease and cardiac amyloidosis;
  • Cardiac conditions, such as heart muscle disease, coronary heart disease, valve disease, congenital heart disease, pericardial disease and rhythm disorders
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Poor lifestyle choices, such as a high salt diet, smoking tobacco, alcohol or drug misuse
  • Failure to take preventative medications

Heart failure is the world’s leading cause of hospitalization. It results in a burden that is felt at every level of healthcare:

  • For systems and healthcare workers assisting with greater numbers of very ill patients
  • For health economies with increasing costs, particularly in a disease area where rehospitalizations are so high: 50% are readmitted within six months of discharge
  • For patients who are diagnosed with a progressive disease without a cure, and their carers.

The prognosis for those diagnosed with heart failure is poor:

  • 17-45% of patient deaths occur within one year of hospital admission
  • 45-60% of deaths occur within five years of admission

But heart failure also takes its toll on people’s daily lives, often resulting in a reduced ability to lead the same lifestyles as before.

“In my 20s and 30s I never thought about my heart health. I stopped exercising when I left school, my diet was pretty bad and I was a smoker. By my late 30s I had gained quite a bit of weight, I couldn’t climb the stairs without getting out of breath and my legs were swollen. I didn’t realize this meant I was retaining fluid which is a classic symptom of heart failure.

“A few years later, my breathlessness was getting worse and my legs were an unusually pale colour. But I still didn’t go to my doctor … I think I was scared of what he’d say. By the next year I was coughing a lot and I felt like I couldn’t breathe when I was lying in bed. I finally went to see the doctor who diagnosed me with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and kidney disease. Shortly after this I was diagnosed with progressive heart failure and my heart was working at only 30% of it function. That dropped to 20% within a couple of months.

In hospital, a cardiologist told me that I was in serious trouble, so as well as taking my medications I stopped smoking and drinking, and started eating healthily. Within a few months I was able to go for short walks and that progressed quite quickly to longer exercise sessions.

My family had a history of heart disease but I was determined not to let this condition get the better of me. Now I no longer need the prescription medicines and heart health has become a way of life for me.”

Rare cardiovascular diseases

There are more than 7,000 known rare diseases, some of which affect the heart and circulatory system and require specialist knowledge to diagnose.

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Cardiac amyloidosis, a rare cause of heart failure

Cardiac amyloidosis is a rare, underdiagnosed condition that is associated with progressive heart failure.

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