In Health issues on Wednesday 7th Aug, 2019

Five symptoms you shouldn’t dismiss as harmless signs of ageing

Aug 07, 2019
When it comes to looking after your heart’s health, your best ally is your doctor so make him or her your first port of call if you are experiencing the symptoms we’ve described.

Our bodies go through many changes as part of the ageing process, but an Australian doctor warns that there are five things that 60-pluses should not be quick to dismiss as just part of getting older:

  1. Breathlessness
  2. Feeling exhausted
  3. Having swollen feet or ankles
  4. Loss of appetite
  5. Struggling to sleep when lying flat.

These complaints are not necessarily due to ageing. They could be signs of a number of health conditions including heart failure, where the heart muscle is no longer strong enough to pump enough blood around the body. 

Andrew Sindone, a Sydney-based cardiologist and professor at the University of Sydney, specialises in the treatment of heart failure. He says that many people are unaware of the condition, let alone the signs and symptoms.

“Everyone knows about heart attack or stroke but most people will look at you blankly if you say ‘heart failure’,” Prof Sindone says. “Even people living with heart failure may not be familiar with the term, as doctors may have simply told them that their heart is getting weak or not pumping the way it used to.”

Prof Sindone says that most people don’t associate breathlessness, tiredness or swelling with their heart function, but while these symptoms can be caused by several different conditions, they can also be a sign that the heart is struggling to pump blood to where it is needed.

“Many people spend years with swollen ankles, changes in their appetite or needing to sleep propped up with multiple pillows before they see a doctor and discover that the culprit is a weakened heart,” he says.

“The good news is that heart failure can be treated, but doctors need to know the symptoms to help them take appropriate action.”

How serious is heart failure?

Heart failure affects around half a million Australians, with more than 67,000 people diagnosed each year. It’s a common cause of hospital admission and claims more than 60,000 lives a year.

Heart failure causes fluid to build up in the lungs, stomach and legs, leading to swelling. It also means that less oxygen is reaching the brain and muscles. Heart failure may be caused by wear and tear to the heart muscle or from damage following a heart attack or heart surgery.

Prof Sindone says it’s really important for heart failure to be top of mind for more Aussies, especially since many people may not see the connection between breathlessness, tiredness or swelling and their heart.

Symptoms that may indicate heart failure include:

  • Shortness of breath during exertion or when lying down
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or abdomen
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm
  • Increased need to urinate at night
  • Very rapid weight gain from fluid retention
  • Lack of appetite and nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus.

These symptoms are not always a sure sign of heart failure, though, so if you or a loved one is experiencing any of these issues, it’s important to consult your doctor.

Prof Sindone suggests making a note of your symptoms and taking these notes to a doctor’s appointment.

“Sometimes people don’t speak up when they are with their doctor and that’s a missed opportunity to get to the bottom of the issue,” he says, “Heart failure is a serious condition that can kill you, so it’s vital to speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms. Don’t put it down to ageing and don’t suffer in silence.”

Have you experienced one or more of these symptoms?

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Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Macquarie Park, NSW Australia. AU-9294 Prepared August 2019

Safeguarding your heart health

Heart failure affects around half a million Aussies, with more than 67,000 people diagnosed each year. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing possible symptoms of heart failure. You can learn more about the condition here.


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