Heart Failure and Work

One-third of people with heart failure didn't return to work, Copenhagen University Hospital research found.

For many people, work is a source of satisfaction and identity, as well as income. That can be a problem for patients with heart failure.

Researchers from Copenhagen University Hospital found that one-third of patients hospitalized with heart failure for the first time had not returned to work one year later.

Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's demands. It may occur because the walls of the heart are thick and inflexible or because the walls have become thin and stretched.

Heart failure can affect only the right side of the heart or both sides. Heart attacks, infections, diabetes, high blood pressure and birth defects can all cause heart failure.

Dr. Rasmus Roerth, a physician at Copenhagen University Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark led the study of 11,880 patients.

"Inability to maintain a full-time job is an indirect consequence of heart failure beyond the usual clinical parameters of hospitalization and death," Dr. Roerth said in a press release. "Most information on heart failure is derived from studies in older patients since they are the majority. This has led to a knowledge gap regarding the impact of living with heart failure among younger patients, who perhaps have the most to lose from the condition."

The study included Danish patients between the ages of 18 and 60 who were employed before being hospitalized for heart failure. One year later, only 68 percent of the patients had returned to work.

Patients between the ages of 18 and 30 were more likely to return to work than those 51 to 60. Those with higher levels of education were more likely to return to work. Higher levels of education may be associated with less physically demanding jobs, and may also allow for a more flexible work schedule.

Men were 24 percent more likely to go back to work than women. The researchers noted this may be a factor of economics rather than an indication that men recover better from heart failure.

Patients who initially stayed in the hospital longer than seven days or who had other medical problems were also less likely to go back to work.

"Employment is crucial for self-esteem and quality of life, as well as being of financial importance, in patients with all kinds of chronic illness," Dr. Roerth said in the press release. "Removal from the labor market and dependence on public benefits has great economic consequences which go beyond the already significant financial burden that these patients place on the healthcare system. More knowledge on what stops patients going back to work will put us in a better position to find ways of preventing it, for example, with more intensive rehabilitation, psychological support or education."

The study was presented at the Heart Failure 2016 and the 3rd World Congress on Acute Heart Failure.

Information on study funding and conflict of interest was not available.