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Public Often Misunderstands Heart Failure

European Survey Shows Many Incorrect About Heart Failure
WebMD Health News

Aug. 30, 2005 -- The public doesn't know much about heart failure, a new report shows.

Heart experts polled nearly 8,000 Europeans about heart failure. The results were "pretty depressing" and could be dangerous, says researcher Willem Remme, MD, in a news release.

Remme is a professor of medicine and director of the Sticares Cardiovascular Research Institute in Rhoon, Netherlands. The survey appears in the European Heart Journal's advance online edition.

Nearly 5 million people in the U.S. are living with heart failure, and 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, according to the American Heart Association's web site.

Would You Pass the Quiz?

Test your own heart failure knowledge. Here are some of the survey's topics:

  • True or false: Heart failure is a normal consequence of getting older.
  • True or false: Prescription drugs can prevent heart failure.
  • True or false: People with heart failure should live quietly and avoid physical exertion.
  • True or false: Heart failure is another word for heart rhythm disorder.
  • True or false: Heart failure symptoms can include breathlessness, tiredness, and swollen ankles.

The researchers' answers:

  • False. Heart failure isn't a normal part of aging.
  • True. Such drugs include ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers, which are often given after a heart attack weakens the heart. ACE inhibitors neutralize the effects of hormones that constrict blood vessels and increase fluid, which worsens heart failure. Examples of these medications include Accupril, Monopril, Vasotec, and Zestril. Beta-blockers inhibit hormones that make the heart beat hard and fast. Examples Tenormin, Inderal, and Corgard.
  • False. Regular exercise is often advised for heart failure (but follow doctor's orders).
  • False. In heart failure, the heart becomes less efficient at pumping blood around the body.
  • True. Overlooking such signs could delay diagnosis.

Possible heart failure symptoms may also include persistent coughing or wheezing, nausea, lack of appetite, confusion or impaired thinking, and increased heart rate, according to the American Heart Association.

'Shocking' Results

Didn't ace the test? You've got lots of company; many Europeans flunked the real survey. Most questions were missed by a lot of participants.

"The low awareness of heart failure that we found is shocking and is putting lives at risk," says Remme. Heart failure happens when the heart's weak pumping action causes a buildup of fluid called congestion in your lungs and other body tissues. The major cause of heart failure is a heart attack or coronary artery disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

The AHA has this advice about heart failure.

  • If you smoke, quit. This will help alleviate some of the symptoms
  • Learn to control high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and diabetes.
  • Eat a proper diet that is low in calories and saturated fat, and avoid salt.
  • Take your medications regularly.
  • Limit the amount of liquids you drink.
  • Weigh yourself daily to monitor for fluid buildup.
  • Start a regular exercise program that has been approved by your doctor.

"If the public don't understand how common and how life-threatening this condition is," Remme says in the news release, "then they are not likely to seek medical help early, and they are also unlikely to demand appropriate measures from healthcare providers."

Participants in the survey were a mix of rural and urban adults aged 25-45 and 65-85. The survey was given in nine European countries. Overall, the results were similar throughout Europe.

Funding came from unrestricted grants from the Sticares Cardiovascular Research Foundation and numerous companies that make drugs or medical devices. In the journal, the researchers write that they have no conflict of interest.

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