Many Aussies at risk of heart failure have no idea

woman clutching her chest in pain

Australians have improved in a number of areas related to looking after their health in recent decades. The number of people on the streets, cigarette in hand, is dramatically lower than 30 years ago. That’s good news for our hearts and lungs, but has it led to complacency? Maybe so, if the latest research is any guide. It suggests that two in three Australians at risk of developing heart failure are unaware of that fact.

What’s more, more than 80 per cent of Australians aged over 65 are unaware that age is a risk factor. For all our improvements, heart failure remains a leading cause of death in Australia. Up to half a million Aussies are affected, and each day eight Australians die as a result of heart failure.

The research incorporated a study that surveyed more than 1000 Australians aged 18 years and older in May this year. It has been published in a report commissioned by Australian charity ‘hearts4heart’.

What does the term ‘heart failure’ mean?

This is a very good question, and I was unaware myself of what the term entails. Associate Professor John Amerena, director of the Geelong Cardiology Research Unit, has enlightened me. “Heart failure doesn’t mean your heart has failed, but rather that it’s failing to keep up with your body’s demands,” he said.

Perhaps not as serious as it sounds, then? Not if you do something about it before it’s too late, says Prof. Amerena. “When left untreated, heart failure progressively worsens,he said. “But with early diagnosis, treatment and lifestyle changes, a person with heart failure can reduce their risk of hospitalisation and improve their quality of life.”

Prof. Amerena’s comments accompanied the announcement of the hearts4heart report’s survey results. The mission of hearts4heart, a Melbourne-based organisation, is “to eliminate preventable strokes, deaths and suffering for people living with heart disease”.

And its vision is to do so through “targeted support, education and advocacy for those living with heart disease”.

Steps Australians can take to reduce risk

As part of this year’s Heart Failure Awareness Week campaign, hearts4heart has produced a comprehensive new guide.

Understanding Heart Failure – A Practical Guide for all Australians provides a clear explanation of how the heart functions. It also details the causes and symptoms of heart failure, and provides advice for those diagnosed with heart failure.

The guide also features personal stories and experiences, including that of Katrina Tenne. Ms Tenne initially underestimated her risk, despite her family’s history of cardiomyopathy. She has now shared her story to encourage Australians to prioritise their heart health and seek support when needed.

“Heart disease is all around us, but we don’t think it will actually happen to us.” Ms Tenne said. “If you are always feeling tired, your body is trying to tell you something. Speak to your GP about your symptoms.”

You could do worse than take the advice of Ms Tenne. Having lost an uncle and grandfather to heart failure, she initially ignored her own symptoms before taking action.

“Seeing my cardiologist was the best thing I could have done for my health,” she said. “If you are always feeling tired or wanting to sleep, your body is trying to tell you something. Do what your body tells you to do. See your doctor.”

How well do you feel you know the potential risks to your heart? Were you aware that age is a risk factor? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: What your heart rate means

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Andrew Gigacz

Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.

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