American Heart Association survery indicates potentially dangerous misconceptions about heart failure

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Nearly six million Americans currently live with heart failure, yet a recent national survey found potentially dangerous misconceptions and knowledge gaps about the disease. Indeed, nearly half of those surveyed got fundamental facts about heart failure wrong and two-thirds of respondents confused signs of heart failure with signs of a heart attack.

The American Heart Association, with support from Novartis Pharmaceuticals, commissioned the survey of more than 1,600 people as the first in an annual review of heart failure knowledge and attitudes in America. Survey respondents included the general public, as well as people living with heart failure and those who care for them.

While most general population respondents (70%) said they were aware of heart failure, survey results showed many people, including patients and caregivers, have misunderstandings about the condition and its causes and symptoms. Fifty-eight per cent of those surveyed mistook heart failure as a natural cause of death that occurs when the heart stops beating. Additionally, nearly half (46%) of respondents incorrectly said heart failure is a silent killer with no symptoms.

“Being aware of the risks and symptoms of heart failure and receiving prompt and proper treatment are key to battling this disease, and that is why these survey results are concerning,” says Gregg C Fonarow, director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center and co-chief of the UCLA Division of Cardiology in Los Angeles, USA. “Heart failure is a serious, chronic condition. It requires recognition, treatment and constant monitoring of signs and symptoms to make sure the condition is not worsening, so that quick action to adjust medications or behaviors may be instituted.”

It is estimated that one in five Americans will develop heart failure in their lifetime and one in nine deaths in the USA include heart failure as a contributing cause. There are more than 870,000 new heart failure cases in the USA each year, which means that at least one person is diagnosed with heart failure every minute. Hospitalisations and other costs associated with heart failure exceed US$30bn a year, making it one of the most common and costly heart diseases in the country.

“Many people with heart failure can lead full, enjoyable lives managing their condition with proper treatment and healthy lifestyle changes,” says Fonarow, who is also a professor of medicine at the UCLA Division of Cardiology. “This is why it is so important for patients and caregivers to understand the disease, and to work together to manage it.”

Survey results showed caregivers were more likely than patients to correctly identify the signs and symptoms of heart failure and to feel more impacted by it.

  • 71% of caregivers feel heart failure impacts their relationships vs. 56% of patients with heart failure.
  • 86% of caregivers say the condition impacts their ability to travel vs. 54% of patients with heart failure. It also affects their ability to participate in family events (82% vs. 65%, respectively) and to participate in hobbies (87% vs. 71%, respectively).
  • Additionally, caregivers were more likely than patients to report feeling anxiety (75% vs. 63%) or depression (69% vs. 56%) as a result of dealing with heart failure.

In the coming months, the American Heart Association will seek feedback from patients, caregivers and healthcare providers to hear more about their experiences and challenges in managing heart failure.

“The significant issues associated with heart failure cannot be solved by any one organisation,” Fonarow said. “These insights and further findings from the survey can guide us as we bring together individuals and organisations to provide solutions that will truly make an impact on patients and their loved ones.”

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