Docs Fall Short in Treating Heart Failure

And Most Patients Aren't Doing Their Part, Either

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 27, 2002 -- In recent years, two classes of drugs have been shown to improve symptoms in people with heart failure and help keep them out of the hospital. But a new survey shows that only about 20% of people with heart failure are actually taking these drugs.

ACE inhibitors and beta blockers are known to be very beneficial for most people with heart failure. And even though a lot of doctors admit to knowing the benefits of these drugs, they are failing to prescribe them to their patients. The survey also shows that while most people with heart failure think they've done a good job making lifestyle changes to improve their condition, their doctors don't agree.

The Heart Failure Report Card program surveyed doctors, patients, and the public on what they know about heart failure. More than 400 cardiologists, internists, and general/family practitioners; 750 heart failure patients; and 1,000 adults in the general population were questioned.

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca funds the program. Heart failure is a lifelong condition in which the heart becomes less and less able to pump blood to the rest of the body. The main cause is blockage in the heart arteries but other possible causes include viruses and toxic reactions to drugs, such as chemotherapy. Nearly 5 million Americans have heart failure and more than a half-million more are diagnosed every year.

In the survey, 87% of the doctors said they're aware that beta-blockers have been shown to help heart-failure patients. But 62% of their patients aren't taking the drugs. ACE inhibitors, which have been the standard of care for heart failure for many years, are also being largely ignored. Only 18% of patients reported being on one of these drugs.

The doctors also had little praise for patients, giving them grades of "C" and "D" in subjects like taking their medications as directed and making lifestyle changes.

Patients think they're doing much better than that. The survey shows 72% know the best way to treat heart failure is to make lifestyle changes. But only 14% said they exercised more and only 9% had lost weight, although 44% believed they were eating better than before.

Before they were diagnosed, heart-failure patients in the survey said they thought their symptoms -- including shortness of breath, weakness, leg swelling, and weight gain -- were related to something else.

Nearly half of the public surveyed didn't know what heart failure is.

The Heart Failure Report Card team concluded that all three groups need more and better education to understand heart failure, its treatment, prevention, and causes.

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