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Delayed diagnosis and upward trends in heart failure hospital admissions concerning: experts

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Clinicians, patients, carers and politicians are joining leading charity hearts4heart in urging Australians to be smart about their heart, as they kick off Australia’s inaugural Heart Failure Awareness Week (June 27-July 3).

Now affecting 1 in 50 Australians, heart failure is becoming increasingly common and expected to rise, as more people survive heart attacks, live longer, and experience heart issues that lead to this potentially debilitating and long-term condition.

Heart failure claims the lives of 61,000 lives annually, and it’s the number one cause of hospitalisation in people over age 65.

“Unfortunately, dangerously low levels of awareness about heart failure are leaving Australians vulnerable,” hearts4heart CEO Tanya Hall, who lost her father to heart failure when he was just 59, said.

When left untreated, heart failure progressively worsens, but with early diagnosis, treatment and lifestyle changes, a person with heart failure can reduce their risk of hospitalisation and improve their quality of life.

Cardiologist, Associate Professor John Amerena

“To help patients affected by heart failure to feel better and live longer, healthier lives, GPs need to recognise heart failure symptoms and know the appropriate clinical pathway for diagnosis.”

Cardiologist Associate Professor John Amerena agreed.

“Delayed diagnosis and upward trends in Australian heart failure admissions are reasons for concern,” he said.

“When left untreated, heart failure progressively worsens, but with early diagnosis, treatment and lifestyle changes, a person with heart failure can reduce their risk of hospitalisation and improve their quality of life.”

To assist with early identification of heart failure symptoms and provide guidance on the appropriate clinical pathway for diagnosis, hearts4heart’s Medical Advisory Committee has developed a new tool based on the Australian consensus of the recent European Society of Cardiologists (ESC) heart failure guidelines.

As healthcare providers, we play a critical role in encouraging people aged 65 and older to be aware of symptoms and get their hearts checked regularly. Be heart smart. Have regular conversations about heart health with your patients, talk about possible symptoms, and be sure you understand the appropriate diagnostic pathway.

Associate Professor Amerena

Recognising Heart Failure can be used to guide GPs in their response to patients presenting with heart failure symptoms and is available for download on the charity’s website.

“As healthcare providers, we play a critical role in encouraging people aged 65 and older to be aware of symptoms and get their hearts checked regularly. Be heart smart. Have regular conversations about heart health with your patients, talk about possible symptoms, and be sure you understand the appropriate diagnostic pathway,” Amarena said.

Heart failure not only places a substantial burden on patients and carers, but also taxes an already stretched health system.

Accounting for $3.1 billion, heart failure is the number one cause of hospitalisation in people over the age of 65, with around 1.1 million days of hospital stay recorded each year.

Alarmingly, 30 per cent of patients admitted to hospital with heart failure are readmitted within 60-90 days and around 1-in-3 of those admitted will die within one year of being diagnosed.

Through improved education and shared decision making between clinicians, patients and caregivers, we can disrupt the cycle resulting in thousands of hospitalisations each year, but it will require a commitment from all Australians.

hearts4heart CEO, Tanya Hall

To reduce preventable hospitalisations, support shared decision-making between patients and clinicians, and improve the overall quality of life of heart failure patients and caregivers, hearts4heart is also launching Australia’s first Heart Failure Patient & Caregiver Charter with the support of Parliamentary Friends of Heart and Stroke, clinicians, patients and caregivers.

“Through improved education and shared decision making between clinicians, patients and caregivers, we can disrupt the cycle resulting in thousands of hospitalisations each year, but it will require a commitment from all Australians,”Hall said.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • Shortness of breath during minimal exercise or exertion
  • Needing to use extra pillows when lying down to breathe easier
  • Irregular heartbeat or palpitations
  • Swelling of legs, feet, or stomach
  • Coughing/wheezing
  • Weight gain over a short period of time (eg., >2kg over 2 days)
  • Extreme tiredness, low energy, or no energy
  • Loss of appetite

Click here to read the full Australian Heart Failure Patient & Caregiver Charter and to download the Recognising Heart Failure guide for early diagnosis and effective patient management.

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