Our specialist community heart failure nurses are raising awareness of the condition that affects millions of people in the UK this heart failure awareness week.

Emma Paik, heart failure specialist nurse at NCIC, said: “Heart failure means that your heart isn’t pumping blood around the body as well as it should, most commonly when the heart muscle has been damaged – for example, after a heart attack. Heart failure does not mean your heart is about to stop working, it means it needs some support to help it work better.

“Heart failure is considered a preventable and treatable condition. Numerous research has suggested that the earlier the diagnosis and initiation of treatment the better the outlook. Your cardiologist or specialist heart failure nurse can recommend evidence based treatment to help support your heart to work better and stop it getting worse.”

Common signs and symptoms to look out for: 

  • Fluid retention – swelling of the ankles and/or legs and the tummy
  • Extreme tiredness also called fatigue
  • Breathlessness – especially when lying flat, like in bed

Other symptoms can include:

  • A persistent cough
  • Lack of appetite
  • High heart rate
  • Feeling light-headed or faint

Symptoms can develop quickly (acute heart failure) or gradually over weeks or months (chronic heart failure)

Symptoms listed can also be caused by other less serious conditions, therefore, it’s important to seek help early on and get this checked out.

Emma added: “Heart failure can be caused by many conditions but the main causes are heart attack, inherited heart conditions (e.g. cardiomyopathy), high blood pressure, heart rhythm and valve problems and inflammation of heart (e.g. infection) or toxins (e.g. alcohol).

“These conditions can put a strain on the pumping muscle of the heart and may cause heart failure symptoms.”

Reducing your risk of heart failure

Lifestyle Changes

Having an healthy lifestyle including eating a well-balanced diet, regular exercising, reducing alcohol intake (or if your heart failure is directly caused by drinking alcohol you will be advised to stop completely) and stopping smoking can help with your symptoms and reduce your risk of becoming seriously ill.

When to seek medical advice

See your GP if you are experiencing persistent or gradually worsening symptoms of heart failure.  A number of tests can be performed to check how well your heart is working including, ECG, Echocardiogram and blood tests. A diagnosis of heart failure can’t be confirmed without an Echocardiogram or Cardiac MRI.

How we can help

Specialist heart failure nurses can offer education, advice, monitoring, symptom management, medication support and individualised care plans in collaboration with the Cardiology Consultants. We see patients in community settings including community hospitals, health clinics or in patients own homes if they are housebound.

NCIC also have in-hospital Specialist Heart Failure Nurses who provide support to individuals in the hospital setting.

Pumping marvellous is the UKs patient-led heart failure charity which has many useful resources for patients.

Case Study – Nick McGrath

Carlisle man Nick McGrath suffered a silent heart attack which he believes may have been brought on by stress.

The former engineer and teacher believes his heart started to deteriorate about 30 years ago due to continual high stress at work.Nick McGrath and Jemimah.jpg

Tests found that his heart rhythm had changed from palpitations to permanent atrial fibrillation (AF) and the heart was not pumping as it should. 

He said: “AF is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate. I could feel my heart fluttering and the abnormal heartbeat is disconcerting. It is tough to try and teach, but couple that with the everyday symptoms of heart failure (AF, fatigue, weakness, breathlessness) and the problems mount.

“I had an ECG and echocardiogram (tests that help find problems with the heart muscle, valves, or rhythm) and when I went for the results the doctor said he could see that my heart was not pumping correctly, in part due to a heart attack. Well, this was news to my wife and I as we never knew that I’d had a heart attack. The doctor explained that there is such a thing as a ‘silent’ heart attack - basically, where you don’t know it’s happening. The cardiologist also saw that three of my arterial vessels were restricted and the lead cardiologist referred me to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, for a triple heart bypass operation in June 2020.”

After the operation, Nick, who is also a diabetic, was delighted that the angina pains were totally gone; however, his heart was still pumping inefficiently.

He had successful angioplasty, a surgical procure using special tools to open narrow, or blocked arteries.

He said: “Heart failure is a condition that I can cope with because of the high-quality medical support I receive.

“In many respects, heart failure is an invisible illness that is not understood very well and therefore Heart Failure Awareness Week may initiate the beginnings of an understanding among the populace.”

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