Heart failure not fully understood by public

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 2, 2016
Lisa McEwen, a nurse with the heart health clinic at the QEH in Charlottetown, says heart failure "is a scary diagnosis because ultimately there is no cure.''
JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN

Lisa McEwen would like heart failure patients to get a better grasp of their terminal condition.

McEwen, a nurse for the heart health clinic at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, says strong education is crucial to patients understanding the symptoms and recognizing the need for lifestyle change.

"I really think it's about quality of life and the patient being able to manage his (or her) chronic illness,'' she says.

The public, in general, often misunderstands heart failure, according to a new Heart and Stroke Foundation poll.

More than one-quarter of Canadians believe that heart failure means the heart has completely stopped beating. In fact, heart failure means that the heart muscle is not pumping blood as well as it should because of damage from heart disease such as a heart attack.

"Heart failure is the end result of all cardiac disease,'' explains Dr. Paul Fedak, a cardiac surgeon at the University of Calgary and a Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher and spokesman.

"You get heart failure from everything that goes wrong with your heart — all roads lead to heart failure.''

Almost half of Canadians believe heart failure can be cured, the poll found. They are wrong. Heart failure is a chronic, incurable condition.

Depending on the symptoms, half of heart failure patients will die within five years, and most will die within 10 years.

The Canadian Heart Failure Society estimates roughly 3,000 people in P.E.I. are living with heart failure.

"For a lot of people, it's scary,'' says McEwen.

"It is a scary diagnosis because ultimately there is no cure.''

The Heart and Stroke Foundation notes heart failure can be treated and managed with changes to lifestyle, as well as with medications and devices that can help failing hearts.

McEwen agrees with the organization's observation that continuity of care from the hospital to the community is lacking with enormous gaps in home-care support.

"The resources in the community are limited,'' she says.

The economic cost associated with heart failure is huge — almost $3 billion per year in Canada, says Dr. Justin Ezekowitz, director of the Heart Function Clinic at the University of Alberta.

"The biggest driver of costs is hospitalization and emergency room visits,'' says Ezekowitz.

Hospital visits due to heart failure have gone up every year for the past several years.

jday@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianJimDay

Heart wrenching numbers

Here are some troubling heart failure statistics:

— 600,000 Canadians are living with heart failure;

— 50,000 new cases are diagnosed each year;

— Hospital visits due to heart failure have gone up every year for the past six years;

— Almost one-third of heart failure patients experience depression.

Source: Heart and Stroke Foundation