Heart failure is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Its prevalence increases with age, affecting around one per cent of people aged under 55 years to over 10 per cent of those aged 70 years or over. The condition is responsible for a significant number of hospitalisations and is a leading cause of death among older adults.

Contrary to popular belief, heart failure does not mean the heart has stopped working altogether; rather, it indicates a decline in the heart’s ability to function optimally.

The causes of heart failure are many, with diseases of the heart arteries resulting in heart attacks and poor heart muscle blood supply, long-standing high blood pressure and diseases of the heart valves being the commonest culprits.

Thanks to the availability of an increasing number of medications to improve heart muscle function, better surgical and less invasive heart valve interventions and dedicated special pacemakers, the outlook for many heart failure patients is now better than ever.

However, early detection of the problem, prompt referral to specialists and initiation of treatment are key to successful heart failure management and better quality of life.

A significant challenge with heart failure is its gradual onset and possibly non-specific symptoms. Early signs can include fatigue, breathlessness and swelling of the ankles or legs − symptoms often attributed to ageing or other ailments. This makes heart failure difficult to diagnose in its early stages, leading to delayed treatment and poorer outcomes.

Raising awareness and early detection

Over the past years, the Heart Failure Association within the European Society of Cardiology has been encouraging national cardiac societies to reach out to the public, healthcare professionals and policymakers through a dedicated Heart Failure Awareness Week.

This year’s theme, 'Detect the Undetected – Find Me' was aimed at empowering people and healthcare providers to be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of heart failure, with the ultimate goal of picking up this condition and treating it as early as possible.

To this end, during Heart Failure Awareness Week (marked in Europe between April 29 and May 5), the Maltese Cardiac Society organised two educational events. The first was targeted at the public. The heart failure team delivering an educational talk about heart failure among the community. Emphasis was made on recognition of signs and symptoms for early detection of the disease.

A second event was organised for general practitioners. Topics discussed included heart failure guidelines, the role of the heart failure clinic at Mater Dei Hospital and the importance of exercise and cardiac rehabilitation in heart failure.

Detecting heart failure early is essential. The Maltese Cardiac Society remains committed to continue educating the public and healthcare professionals on how best to prevent the development of heart failure and on how to recognise the signs and symptoms to, ultimately, improve quality of life and patient outcomes.

Maryanne Caruana is a consultant cardiologist and president of the Maltese Cardiac Society. Alice May Moore is a consultant cardiologist with special interest in advanced heart failure.

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