If you were feeling breathless and tired, you wouldn’t necessa­rily think it was a pro­blem with your heart – but it could well be.

Heart failure is a con­dition where the heart is incapable of pumping blood for the normal requirements of the body; the pre­dominant symptom is breathless­ness, while other symptoms inclu­de swollen ankles and fatigue.

The risk factors are those com­mon to other heart conditions – pe­ople who have diabetes, or condi­tions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

“It’s important to talk about what heart failure is not”

Heart failure can also come about following an infection or a heart at­tack. Over-65s are the population most at risk. “It’s important to talk about what heart failure is not,” says Neil Johnson, Chief Executi­ve of Croí, the West of Ireland Car­diac Foundation. “It can be cau­sed by a number of conditions in­cluding hypertension (high blood pressure), following a heart attack, coronary heart diseases and other health conditions, and over-65s are the population most at risk.”

Heart failure is a chronic condi­tion which can be managed with a combination of interventions in­cluding diet, exercise, medications and patient self care.

Croí have recently joined forces with the Heartbeat Trust, a heart failure charity, to launch a new ini­tiative, the Heart Failure Patient Al­liance, which aims to increase awa­reness of heart failure and provide a voice for patients.

There is a low awareness of the signs and symptoms of heart failure among the ge­neral population.

Ciara Keane, Project Manager for research with the Heartbeat Trust, elaborates: “Because you don’t re­cognise your symptoms, you may not think heart failure, you may not even think to mention it to a doctor, and then you won’t be referred for a test. You might think these symptoms just go with aging, for example.”

Neil adds: “Heart failure can be difficult-to-diagnose because there are other co-morbidities. An echo­cardiogram is needed to determine diagnosis, and access to these is li­mited in some parts of the country.”

Ciara and Neil hope to raise awa­reness to the point where the gene­ral public and doctors will consider heart failure as a possibility whene­ver these symptoms are experienced.

A patient voice

The lack of awareness around heart failure is particularly problematic gi­ven that one in five of us will develop the condition in our lives. The condi­tion is also the leading cause of ad­mission to emergency departments. Across the EU, some 15 million people suffer from it.

“In Ireland previously there has been a patient voice behind heart fai­lure,” says Ciara.

There is a low awareness of the signs and symptoms of heart failure among the ge­neral population.

Neill adds: “There are many other conditions that don’t have the same prevalence yet have a stronger pa­tient voice. There’s a real opportuni­ty here to mobilise a united voice to improve care.”

Inaugural meetings for the Heart Failure Patient Alliance will take in April – in Dublin on the 15th and Galway on the 16th – where experts will speak about the condition, and about managing it; plenty of mate­rials and advise will be available for patients and their carers.

“Ideally we would want to have pa­tients from all Ireland over represen­ted in the alliance,” says Ciara. “It’s important to convey it’s not just the two of us! We’re just the starting foundation for this to emerge as a na­tional platform for patients.”

For more information, visit www.croi.ie or www.heartbeattrust.org