Signs you could have heart failure as cases expected to rise

Lynn Mackay-Thomas, the chief executive of the BSH, issued a stark warning: « We are facing a tsunami of hospital admissions if we do not systematically find those with heart failure early or at highest risk of developing heart failure. »

She emphasised the urgency of the situation: « It’s a ticking time bomb. A national, sustainable and centrally commissioned programme to find people before they become acutely unwell can help change this trajectory. We have the knowledge and treatments to transform people’s lives and prevent many avoidable deaths. », reports Gloucestershire Live.

But what exactly is heart failure?

Heart failure, a condition where the heart can’t pump blood efficiently around the body, is incurable and lifelong. However, early detection and treatment can mitigate the risk of hospitalisation and, in severe cases, death.

What are the main symptoms?

The NHS lists four primary signs of heart failure:

  • Breathlessness– this may occur after activity or at rest; it may be worse when you’re lying down, and you may wake up at night needing to catch your breath
  • fatigue – you may feel tired most of the time and find exercise exhausting
  • swollen ankles and legs – this is caused by a build-up of fluid (oedema); it may be better in the morning and get worse later in the day
  • feeling lightheaded and fainting

Additionally, there are several less common symptoms to be aware of which include: 

  • a persistent cough, which may be worse at night
  • wheezing
  • a bloated tummy
  • loss of appetite
  • weight gain or weight loss
  • confusion
  • a fast heart rate
  • a pounding, fluttering or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Some people with heart failure may also experience feelings of depression and anxiety.

How is it diagnosed?

If you exhibit any symptoms of heart failure, your GP should be your first port of call. They will conduct various tests to assess your overall health and determine the cause of your symptoms.

To specifically diagnose heart failure, you will typically undergo the following:

  • A blood test – To check whether there’s anything in your blood that might indicate heart failure or another illness
  • An electrocardigram (ECG) – A special painless test in which electrodes are placed on your chest and limbs to get a clear reading of your heartbeat’s rate and rhythm. 
  • An echocardiogram – A type of ultrasound scan which looks at your heart to check for any structural abnormalities that may be causing your symptoms. 
  • Breathing tests – Some people may be asked to undertake a breathing test using spirometry, in which you blow into a tube to check whether a lung problem is contributing to your breathlessness. 
  • A chest x-ray –  To check whether your heart’s bigger than it should be, whether there’s fluid in your lungs (a sign of heart failure), or whether a lung condition could be causing your symptoms

After diagnosis

Post-diagnosis, your condition will be graded to indicate the severity of your heart failure. This grading, divided into four categories based on severity, will also dictate the treatments available to you.

The stages are as follows:

  • Stage 1 – you don’t have any symptoms during normal physical activity
  • Stage 2 – you’re comfortable at rest, but normal physical activity triggers symptoms
  • Stage 3 – you’re comfortable at rest, but minor physical activity triggers symptoms
  • Stage 4 – you’re unable to carry out any physical activity without discomfort and may have symptoms even when resting

How is it treated?

Some of the most straightforward methods to control the condition involve regular medication such as beta blockers and diuretics.

However, in more severe cases, a patient may require an internal pacemaker to regulate their heartbeat or an internal cardiac defibrillator (ICD), which can administer a controlled electrical shock to the heart if it detects an irregular rhythm.

If you’d like to find out more about heart failure visit the British Heart Foundation here, or if you are concerned about your health, speak to your GP. 

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