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A new partnership to combat heart failure in Ireland

Neil Johnson

CEO, Croí

Neil Johnson of Croí and Ciara Keane of the Heartbeat Trust discuss the symptoms of heart failure in Ireland. Then they talk about a new initiative which aims to give patients a louder voice.

If you were feeling breathless and tired, you wouldn’t necessa­rily think it was a pro­blem with your heart. However, 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. For example, pe­ople who have diabetes, or condi­tions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

It’s important to talk about what heart failure in Ireland 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 in Ireland 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 in Ireland.

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 in Ireland.

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.”

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