If you or a loved one have heart failure, it’s vital you have a strong understanding of your treatment plan and known the warning signs of worsening symptoms – because new data shows it’s all too common for Australians with heart failure to end up back in hospital far too often.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released its statistics this week on preventable hospital admissions in 2017-18, and more than 62,000 of those preventable admissions was for heart failure. That equated to an average of 171 admissions every single day, or one admission every eight minutes – the equivalent of an incredible 400,000 ‘bed days’ in the hospital system.
Why do so many people needlessly end up in hospital, sometimes within a month of their first hospitalisation for heart failure?
Cia Connell, the clinical evidence manager at the Heart Foundation, says that heart failure is a particularly difficult condition for most people to manage, especially given it’s a chronic condition that will likely require management over many years.
Heart failure means your heart is damaged, so can’t pump as well as it should. This can cause extra fluid to build up in your body. Having had a heart attack is a common cause of heart failure, as is having high blood pressure or drinking too much alcohol.
Managing the condition usually requires adopting a healthy lifestyle, cutting back on fluids and taking medication, but doctors may also recommend that you have a device such as a pacemaker implanted or have a procedure such as a heart bypass.
But the medication regime for heart failure is often complex and because people commonly have their treatment plan explained to them while they are in hospital recovering from an initial heart failure, a lack of blood pumping to the brain at the time can make it even harder than usual to remember their plan, Connell explained.
“Medication non-compliance usually isn’t intentional, it’s most often due to people not having fully understood what’s involved,” she said.
That’s why the Heart Foundation recommends two key steps to ensuring that you or your loved one with heart failure don’t have to make unnecessary hospital visits.
The first is to ask, then ask again, about any treatment plan a health professional may prescribe, and do so as often as necessary over the months and years following your initial experience of heart failure.
“People should feel empowered to manage their condition, so if they don’t understand something, they should feel free to ask questions,” Connell advised. “It’s their life and their body.”
The Heart Foundation also recommends that you or your loved one understand which symptoms of heart failure require early medical intervention, to prevent a further deterioration that will end in a hospital admission.
“Heart failure is a condition that fluctuates and it takes time to learn the symptoms and know what to do when they occur, particularly which symptoms require early intervention,” Connell explained. She recommends using the Heart Foundation’s heart failure action plan to keep track of your symptoms and recognise the ones that you should see your doctor about as soon as possible.
If you’re the partner or family member of someone with heart failure, it can help to work as a team to understand and stick to the treatment regime and to keep an eye out for worrying symptoms, she added.
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