What's Heart Failure? Many People Didn't Know

Heart failure survey from American Heart Association found lack of knowledge about symptoms, condition

Do you know what heart failure actually is?

Many Americans may think of heart failure as an unavoidable, untreatable condition — and this misconception could be keeping them from getting lifesaving treatments, a new survey found.

Heart failure occurs when the heart is overworked and cannot pump enough blood to provide for the body's survival. However, despite the term “failure,” this does not mean that the heart dies completely. The condition can, in fact, exhibit symptoms that, if recognized, can lead to proper treatment — and even a full life. But most Americans are unaware of this, according to a new survey from the American Heart Association (AHA).

The AHA surveyed 1,600 people — including heart failure patients and their caregivers — and found that 58 percent of the subjects believed heart failure means the heart naturally stops beating, while 46 percent believed there are no symptoms for the condition and that it silently attacks the body over time.

Both of those beliefs are incorrect, and because 1 in 5 Americans develops heart failure over time, they are worrisome, according to the AHA.

“Being aware of the risks and symptoms of heart failure and receiving prompt and proper treatment are key to battling this disease ...” said lead researcher Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, of the University of California Los Angeles Division of Cardiology, in a press release. “[Heart failure] requires recognition, treatment and constant monitoring of signs and symptoms to make sure the condition is not worsening ...”

Heart failure symptoms include shortness of breath, exhaustion, weight gain of at least 3 pounds in a day and fluid retention that leads to bloating in the legs, feet and stomach. Losing weight, managing stress, quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol and caffeine and eating a healthy diet are some of the ways to treat the condition. Other treatments include taking blood thinners, diuretics and blood pressure-reducing drugs.

Heart transplants can also treat patients with severe symptoms.

“Many people with heart failure can lead full, enjoyable lives managing their condition with proper treatment and healthy lifestyle changes,” Dr. Fonarow said. “This is why it is so important for patients and caregivers to understand the disease, and to work together to manage it.”

Nearly 900,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure every year in the US, which leads to about $30 billion in treatment, according to the AHA. This is the first AHA survey of its kind, and the organization plans to measure knowledge about heart failure on an annual basis.