A record number of people in Wales have been diagnosed with heart failure, according to a new analysis by the British Heart Foundation Cymru (BHF Cymru).
Admissions to hospital are rising, with 350 people a month in Wales now admitted due to heart failure as the primary diagnosis, and hundreds more being admitted with heart failure as part of their diagnosis.
The rise in hospital admissions is reflective of the increasing numbers of people living with heart failure in the UK. It’s estimated that around 920,000 people have the condition and its burden is now similar to the four most common cancers combined.
Several factors could be contributing to the rise in people living with heart failure, including an aging and growing population, growing numbers of heart attack survivors and stubbornly high rates of people living with heart failure risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Research also suggests that nearly eight in 10 people with heart failure are diagnosed in hospital, even though four in 10 had visited their GP in the previous five years with symptoms such as breathlessness, swollen ankles, and exhaustion.
BHF Cymru warns that the figures highlight the significant challenge this currently incurable condition poses to the NHS and says heart failure is still not being diagnosed early enough and the variation in treatment across Wales highlights the challenges for health professionals.
The charity has also called for improved ways of detecting, diagnosing and managing heart failure along with more innovative models of care.
John Lee, 67, from Swansea, lives with heart failure following two heart attacks in 2001.
He said: “I spent three months in hospital after my first heart attack and had a second heart attack while I was there. It was a further six months before I was diagnosed with heart failure. I returned to my job as a safety officer but only part-time because of my condition.
“It was hard, even though the support I had from cardiac nurses in cardiac rehab was fantastic. I was in shock and I went through a terrible time.
“I’m now Chair of the Cardiac Support Association here in Swansea, we support the carers of patients with heart conditions. We recognise the importance of talking about it and supporting those affected by heart failure as well as those living with it.
“I’m more aware of my health. I have been diagnosed with diabetes since my heart attack and I still get out of breath, but I walk a mile a day on the treadmill and try to live as normal a life as possible.”
Head of BHF Cymru Adam Fletcher said: “Heart failure poses a growing and increasingly complex challenge, not only for people living with the condition but for those who care for them too. It’s concerning to see yet another increase in hospital admissions – an indication that how we diagnose, treat and care for these patients could be far better.
“There is no cure for heart failure, but with access to the right services and support, people can go on to have a good quality of life for many years. We need to find new and improved ways of delivering this care, including in communities rather than hospitals. Doing so will improve thousands of lives and relieve the unsustainable pressure that heart failure is putting on our health service”
To address the growing burden of heart failure, the BHF has launched the new £1million Hope for Hearts Fund to find innovative ways of caring for people with heart failure that can be trialed immediately. Innovations could include more effective use of technology and data, new service models or new ways of engaging people in their own care.
The charity is also continuing to invest in research into regenerative medicine, which could lead to new treatments within a decade.
BHF Cymru is working with the Heart Conditions Implementation Group in Wales, to support the development of an all-Wales pathway for Heart Failure, which aims to reduce variation in treatment and ensure all patients in Wales have access to fast, effective treatment.
Adam Fletcher added: “Our research aims to harness the potential of regenerative medicine to reverse and cure heart failure, but it is going to take some time before it can help people with heart failure.
“In the meantime, we need to raise greater awareness of the devastating impact of heart failure and ensure everyone affected receives a quick diagnosis and the best standard of care.
“Innovative initiatives like our Hope for Hearts Fund will help find new and improved ways of caring for people with heart failure that could rapidly lead to a better quality of life for many thousands of people.”