A record number of people in Wales have been diagnosed with heart failure, according to a new analysis by 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 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 ageing 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.
Mike Morgan 73 from Tredegar had two cardiac arrests in 2004 when he was 58.
“I was working in Caernarfon when I had a cardiac arrest in a street in the town centre. It was sheer luck that an ambulance was passing and the paramedics saved my life twice as I had a second cardiac arrest while they were saving me. I have no memory of what happened. One minute I was stepping out of a shop and then I woke up in Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor.
“I didn’t really know why I’d collapsed and went to see my GP who referred me to a cardiologist and I was admitted straight to coronary care as I was at high risk of having another cardiac arrest. I didn’t know what was happening. I felt so confused. I was diagnosed with heart failure due to dilated cardiomyopathy and had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) fitted.
“I was absolutely terrified. I didn’t know anyone else who had an ICD. I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t work and felt I had nobody to talk to about what I was going through. I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD following the trauma of my cardiac arrests. It was nine years before I could drive again. My life has changed completely. Ten years ago I helped start a group called The Gwent Defibbers, we give support and advice to people living with heart conditions. I volunteer, teach CPR and help as many people as I can. I would rather be without it, but I’ve learned to live with it.”
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 trialled 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.”