CEO, British Society for Heart Failure (BSH)
Dr Simon Williams
Chair, British Society for Heart Failure (BSH)
Heart failure. The chill is in the name. Do you know what heart failure is? Would you be able to recognise it?
Heart failure is an insidious condition characterised by symptoms including fatigue, fluid build-up, often noticeable in the ankles and fighting for breath. It is caused by a structural and or functional abnormality in the heart which leads to reduced cardiac output.1
There are approximately one million people with heart failure in the UK2 and a further 200,000 people are newly diagnosed each year. For half of those with the condition, heart failure is terminal with death occurring within two-five years of diagnosis.
The risk of death from heart failure is higher than for some of the most common cancers.
Delays in diagnosis
For many there are delays in diagnosis which is taking over 12 months. The risk of death from heart failure is higher than for some of the most common cancers.3 There is a growing school of thought that heart failure should be recognised as a disease as malignant as cancer4 and treated with the same urgency.
We have seen that patients with existing heart failure are at higher risk of developing complications and death from COVID-19. We have a real concern over the direct and indirect toll of the COVID-19 pandemic with escalation of heart failure cases and those yet to be diagnosed over the coming months.5
However, Dr Simon Williams, Chair of the British Society for Heart Failure (BSH) comments: “Whilst it remains a burdensome, debilitating condition, with appropriate management, it is possible for people to live well with heart failure and outcomes can be improved through earlier diagnosis and treatment with guideline recommended therapies.6 This is an important aim of the care we provide as heart failure specialists.”
Earlier detection, diagnosis and treatment of those with heart failure, as well as empowerment of patients to self-manage, will improve outcomes for people living with heart failure.
One of the keys to early detection of heart failure is self-recognition of the symptoms and seeking medical help. Use of the blood test for NT-pro BNP in General Practice is another key step as it indicates if symptoms are likely to be due to heart failure and how urgently a patient may then need referral to a heart failure specialist.