At-risk Australians lack awareness about heart failure

Matt Woodley

19/06/2023 5:10:30 PM

Two in three people susceptible to heart disease do not recognise that they are at risk, a new nationwide survey has found.

Patient with heart failure
People living with heart failure visit their GP on average 14 times per year.

New research has uncovered a lack of health literacy among people most at risk of heart failure, despite it being a leading cause of death in Australia.

The survey, commissioned by charity hearts4heart, polled a representative sample of more than 1000 people and found that 66% of those susceptible to heart disease fail to recognise that they are at risk of heart failure, while 82% of Australians aged 65 and over did not identify age as a contributing factor. 

The research also found that 61% of Australians with a family history of heart conditions and 60% with high blood pressure were unaware of the potential link to heart disease, including heart failure.

‘Unfortunately, dangerously low levels of awareness are leaving Australians vulnerable to this long-term condition,’ hearts4heart CEO Tanya Hall said. 

Global testing rates for heart failure and cardiovascular disease dropped markedly in the wake of the pandemic, leading to fears of an impending spike in deaths in the coming years.

However, people living with heart failure also visit their GP on average 14 times per year. GP and researcher Professor Ralph Audehm previously told newsGP this means there are often ‘many opportunities’ for GPs to intervene and improve patient outcomes.

‘Planned reviews, which improve outcomes, would improve outcomes and improve the viability for general practice,’ he said. ‘Early intervention can make a huge difference and save lives.’

It is a message supported by Associate Professor John Amerena, Director of the Geelong Cardiology Research Unit.

‘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. 

‘When left untreated, heart failure progressively worsens, 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.’ 

To help raise awareness among the general public, hearts4heart has launched an Australian-first guide developed in collaboration with patients, clinicians, and the Parliamentary Friends of Heart and Stroke Foundations.

‘Understanding Heart Failure: A Practical Guide for all Australians’ is designed to support individuals at risk of heart failure, and those living with the condition, by offering valuable insights from clinicians and patients. 

The guide features personal stories and experiences, including that of Katrina Tenne, who initially underestimated her risk despite her family’s history of cardiomyopathy. 

‘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’ve only got one heart – don’t fail it!’

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