Heart failure (HF) is simply a declining efficiency of the heart. The heart is a pump, and any pump has two duties – to squeeze and pump, and to relax and prime and get ready for the next squeeze. HF occurs because the pumping or the priming or both become less effective; symptoms include breathlessness, tiredness, and fluid build-up resulting in, for example, ankle swelling.

HF is a very prevalent condition, affecting around 90,000 people in Ireland. Up to one in five people will develop it at some point during their lives. It affects mainly middle-aged to older people – the over 50s are the group most at risk, though younger people can develop it.

It’s more likely to develop in people who have associated risk factors – individuals with previous heart problems, in particular a heart attack, or individuals who suffer from ongoing issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

The treatment involves a combination of lifestyle changes and maybe medication. The lifestyle issues include avoiding salt, avoiding smoking, moderating alcohol, keeping your weight under control, and making sure your blood pressure is well controlled.

 

New campaign

 

Despite being so prevalent, the risks and symptoms of HF are not so widely recognised. The Know Heart Failure Now Campaign, which is supported by Novartis Ireland Ltd., along with the Heart Failure Patient Alliance established by the Heartbeat Trust and Croí, aims to change this.

 
Ken McDonald at the National Ploughing Championships, Ireland;

 

At the Ploughing Championships this year (see above), we launched the Know Heart Failure Now Campaign – visitors could speak to healthcare professionals about the symptoms and risk factors, and could also get a free test; they could see how easy it is to rule HF in or out.

The term heart failure can be frightening and is often misunderstood, but if you are experiencing symptoms – go to your GP. The earlier it is diagnosed, the earlier it can be treated, and your quality of life can dramatically improve.