Heart failure doesn’t just affect the elderly

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Health Matters by Simon Temple, Lincolnshire Community Health Services’ Head of Clinical Services for South east Lincolnshire

How many of you have heard of the term heart failure and understood what it means?

Most people think heart failure only affects the elderly and is when your heart stops working or has already stopped. The words themselves don’t sound particularly pleasant and many people have asked if it could be called something else.

As part of our team at Lincolnshire Community Health Services, we have specialist heart failure complex case managers supporting heart failure patients in the community. But what do they do? These specialist nurses help patients to manage their condition at home and hope to help them avoid unnecessary hospital visits.

The team works in partnership with other health professionals to better plan care and provide education and support to patients, their families and carers to develop their own skills and knowledge.

Heart failure is not the same as a heart attack or angina. Both of these are due to the arteries in the heart becoming diseased (heart disease) and, in the case of a heart attack, a clot or thrombus blocking a coronary artery. Heart failure can be ‘acute’ due other health problems, which place high demands on the heart and body. Examples could include a serious infection like pneumonia, a fast irregular heart rhythm, anaemia or an over-active thyroid. This does not mean that there is any damage to the heart pump or valves.

Heart failure can also be chronic. In many cases, the cause is heart disease, which may – but not always – have been diagnosed and present for many years and gradually the heart is placed under increasing strain. High blood pressure, obesity, alcohol and drug abuse can also be causes.

Some less common causes are viruses or bacteria which attack the heart muscle, and pregnancy.

Chronic heart failure can cause damage to the heart muscle or pump, or damage to a valve or more than one valve. This damage can lead to range of symptoms such as fatigue, breathlessness, fluid retention (in the lungs, feet and legs and or abdomen) and weight gain. It could also mean the patient can’t manage as much exercise, loses their appetite, or can’t lie down flat in bed at night.

There is currently no cure for chronic heart failure, but there are treatments available to help people to relieve their symptoms and to live full and active lives.

If you have questions about heart failure, more information can be found on our website www.lincolnshirecommunityhealthservices.nhs.uk or speak to your GP or nurse.

Thank you to April Gladwin, Heart Failure Complex Case Manager, for contributing to this month’s column.