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Less than half of all Australians are aware of the link between heart failure and type 2 diabetes, a condition that affects 1.2 million people, and kidney disease which affects approximately two million Australians.1,2 

Most Australians are overlooking the common red flags that may point to heart failure – Iron deficiency, erectile dysfunction, malnutrition (i.e. a poor diet) and infection. 

Heart failure is estimated to affect approximately half a million Australians, with over 67,000 Australians being diagnosed each year.3,4 These numbers are likely to increase with the growing and ageing population.3 

Heart failure patients often suffer from multiple comorbidities (cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular), such as an irregular heart rate or rhythm, high blood pressure, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, iron deficiency, and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.5,6,7 

A new survey commissioned by YouGov, on behalf of leading charity Hearts4heart, indicates more than four million Australians are not aware of the comorbidities that can increase the risk of heart failure.8 

“The latest research around awareness of comorbidities among Australian adults is very concerning,” said Hearts4heart CEO Tanya Hall, who lost her father to heart failure when he was just 59.

“In particular, it is very troubling that only one in three Australians (32 per cent) are aware that kidney disease can increase their risk of heart failure. This condition is one of the major indicators of mortality risk in heart failure and can impact 44 per cent of Australians over the age of 75.2 

“Another comorbidity of concern is type 2 diabetes. This condition impacts 1.2 million Australians and is a high priority on the national health agenda, yet less than half of all Australians (46 per cent) are aware of the link between heart failure and type 2 diabetes.  

“Heart failure is the number one cause of hospitalisations for those over the age of 65, and is estimated to cost the Australian health system $3.1 billion each year.4 Lack of awareness of the health conditions that can increase the risk of heart failure is putting a toll on Australia’s health at a personal and a national level,” commented Ms Hall. 

According to Professor Andrew Sindone, Director Heart Failure Unit and Department of Cardiac Rehabilitation, Concord Hospital and Head of Department of Cardiology, Ryde Hospital, living with heart failure comorbidities can take a toll on the physical and mental health of an individual, but effective management is crucial to ensure best outcomes and a better quality of life.  

“Despite the name, heart failure doesn’t mean the heart has stopped or failed, it means that the heart is ‘failing’ to keep up with the body’s demands.9 A comorbidity, which is any co-existing health condition, is one contributing factor to heart failure if not properly managed, so, it’s essential to speak to your GP to understand your risks and treat any underlying medical conditions you may have.5 Having these early discussions with your GP can support early detection and intervention of heart failure, reducing the risk of life-threatening complications including heart attack and stroke,4,10” stated Professor Sindone. 

Heart failure affects people in different ways. In its early stages, heart failure often has no symptoms. Symptoms can start suddenly and be severe (acute heart failure) or they may appear over time and gradually worsen (chronic heart failure).11 

Symptoms of heart failure can include: 

  • Breathlessness during minimal exercise, or when resting  
  • Sudden weight gain  
  • New or worsening tiredness, dizziness, confusion, or sadness  
  • Discomfort or swelling in the tummy or lower body  
  • Increased trouble sleeping  
  • Swelling of the legs, ankles, or feet  
  • Loss of appetite  
  • Dry cough  
  • Irregular heartbeat or palpitations11,12 

“Heart Failure Awareness Week is a Hearts4heart initiative, designed to raise awareness about the prevalence of heart failure in Australia, increase understanding of heart failure symptoms, and highlight the importance of early detection to improve patient outcomes,12” said Ms Hall. 

In May 2023, the Heart Health Check program, subsidised by Medicare, was extended for another two years, allowing people aged 45 and over and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 30 and over to assess their risk of heart disease during a 20-minute consultation with a medical practitioner.  

If you are concerned about yourself, a friend or loved one who may be showing symptoms of heart failure, or to access resources and information, visit www.hearts4heart.org.au.

References 

  1. Hearts4heart. (2024). Awareness of heart failure comorbidities. [data on file]. 
  1. Australian Government. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Chronic kidney disease: Australian facts. Available at: Chronic kidney disease: Australian facts, Summary – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (aihw.gov.au) 
  1. Liew, D, et al. (2020). Epidemiology of heart failure: Study of Heart failure in the Australian Primary care setting (SHAPE). 7(6):3871-3880. doi: 10.1002/ehf2.12979.  
  1. Chen, L, et al. (2017). Snapshot of Heart Failure in Australia. Available at: https://www.acu.edu.au/-/media/feature/pagecontent/richtext/about-acu/news-and-events/heart-failure-burden-report.pdf?la=en&hash=8A53AE5BB0B50E213C0E49673F1C38C4 
  1. Comín-Colet J, et al. (2020). Impact of non-cardiovascular comorbidities on the quality of life of patients with chronic heart failure: a scoping review. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 7;18(1):329. doi: 10.1186/s12955-020-01566-y. 
  1. Paolillo S, Scardovi AB, Campodonico J. (2020) Role of comorbidities in heart failure prognosis Part I: Anaemia, iron deficiency, diabetes, atrial fibrillation. 27(2_suppl):27-34. doi: 10.1177/2047487320960288.  
  1. Screever, E.M, et al. (2023). Comorbidities complicating heart failure: changes over the last 15 years. 112, 123–133 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00392-022-02076-1  
  1. Hearts4heart. (2024). Awareness of heart failure comorbidities. [data on file]. 
  1. Global Heart Hub. (2023). Your guide to your journey: heart failure. Retrieved from: https://globalhearthub.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/GHH_HF-PatientGuide.pdf 
  1. McDonagh, T.A, et al. (2021). 2021 ESC Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Acute and Chronic Heart Failure. European Heart Journal, [online] 42(36), pp.3599–3726. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehab368
  1. Malik A, et al. (2023). Congestive Heart Failure. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430873/ 
  1. Hearts4heart. (n.d) Heart Failure. Available at: https://hearts4heart.org.au/heart-failure/ 

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