Heart failure on the rise but treatments improve health and lifespan

Richard Dinnen - Queensland Editor |

Eight Australians a day are dying of a treatable health condition. One every three hours. Heart failure kills 61,000 people a year.

It’s the top reason people over 65 go in to hospital, and there’s a higher incidence of it in rural areas, where outcomes are worse than in our cities.

It’s less well known than other leading causes of death and disease, but cardiologist, John Amerena, from University Hospital Geelong, said it’s a bad condition to have.

Professor John Amerena University Hospital Geelong

“The heart can’t generate enough blood flow to sustain the needs of the body. Sometimes it’s a weak heart, where it can’t pump the blood.

“Or it can be a stiff heart, where it can’t fill with blood. But the bottom line is it can’t supply the amount of blood to the body to allow it to function.

“The most common cause is a heart attack, which has damaged the heart. And there’s viral infection.

“With stiff hearts, high blood pressure is a common cause, or age, leaking and narrowed valves. Diabetes contributes to it.

“If you look at the figures, it’s the most common cause of patients over 65 needing to go to hospital, and it’s getting worse as time goes on.”

That may be because people are living longer, and heart attack survival rates have improved significantly, so there’s more heart failure being detected.

It seems a terrifying diagnosis, but it doesn’t mean the heart has stopped or failed.

Professor Amerena said the heart is ‘failing’ to meet the body’s demands, and early diagnosis and treatments are vital.

“The first thing is to be aware of it, and to try to diagnose the condition early. If you can get people on appropriate medication before their heart is severely affected, you can often stop it getting worse and reverse the process.

“It really involves lifestyle changes, fluid reduction, salt reduction, exercise, weight loss.

“Stop smoking, moderation of alcohol. But the linchpin of treating heart failure is medication. Most people end up on three or four drugs in the long term.

“These can improve their heart function, make people feel better, keep them out of hospital, and keep them alive longer.

“People say ‘oh I’m just getting older and slowing down’. But often, they’re having symptoms of heart failure.

“If you’re feeling tired, swollen, breathless, flat, see a doctor and be evaluated because heart failure is one of the more common causes of that constellation  of symptoms.

“If it’s picked up early, with appropriate treatment you can make meaningful improvements to quality of life, and to length of life.”

Heart Failure Awareness Week begins today. For more information, go to hearts4heart.org.au

Heart failure is a major cause of admission to regional Queensland hospitals