Australia is in the midst of a heart failure epidemic, say researchers who have found that one in 20 people have the condition.
One of the biggest concerns is that heart failure is poorly understood and often confused with a heart attack, says research leader Professor Simon Stewart of the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute.
But it’s not a sudden dramatic event. It is a chronic condition in which the heart struggles to pump enough blood through the body, or struggles to pump it with enough force.
It varies in severity, but people often experience shortness of breath, fatigue and insomnia.
Although it can be treated with drugs, there is permanent damage to the heart as well possible damage to the brain and kidneys.
The study shows 500,000 Australians have the condition, up from 350,000 in 2002.
Once a person is hospitalised with heart failure, they have a high risk of a downward spiral in their general health and have less chance of surviving five years than a woman with breast cancer.
This means Australia needs a strategic plan that includes screening and prevention, says Prof Stewart, who is testing a nurse-led system of home-based care for people who have been discharged from hospital.