Most Europeans Know Little About Heart Failure

And a similar survey of Americans would find similar results, expert warns

SATURDAY, Sept. 3, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- A survey of adults in nine countries finds most Europeans woefully unaware of heart failure or what a serious health problem it can be.

And at least one U.S. expert believes polls conducted in this country would glean similar results.

"You would find the exact same lack of awareness in the U.S. as you do in Europe," said Dr. Harlan M. Krumholz, a professor of cardiology at Yale University Medical School.

Heart failure -- a serious condition for which there is no cure -- occurs when the heart isn't pumping as well as it should. However, many people with heart failure still lead full lives if their condition is managed with drugs and healthy lifestyle changes.

While almost 90 percent of the 8,000 Europeans susrveyed said they had heard about heart failure, only 3 percent could identify the condition from a description of typical symptoms, despite the fact that 6 percent said someone in their family suffered from the condition.

The report appears in the current issue of the European Heart Journal.

"Overall, in Europe, if you ask what the average person knows about heart failure and how important he thinks heart failure is, the answer is generally negative, even though about 2 to 3 percent of the people in Europe will have heart failure," said lead author Dr. Willem Remme, director of the Sticares Cardiovascular Research Institute in Rhoon, the Netherlands.

Most people had heard of heart failure, Remme added. But while 51 percent said they could recognize the signs of stroke and 31 percent could recognize angina, only 3 percent could identify the signs of heart failure.

The Dutch team also report that few people know just how serious heart failure is. "Only 28 percent thought it was a serious disease," Remme noted. Most people also mistakenly thought heart failure patients lived longer than patients with HIV. "The same was true for cancer," he added.

There were also striking differences among countries, Remme said:

  • In Italy and the United Kingdom, for example, 90 percent of respondents had heard of the term "heart failure"; in the Netherlands, only a little more than 60 percent had.
  • In Poland and Romania, 90 percent and 83 percent, respectively, agreed that heart failure drugs could reduce mortality and improve well-being; in Germany and Netherlands, most people were skeptical of their value.
  • A majority of Poles, Spaniards, Romanians and French, and a minority of Swedes and Germans, also adhered to the mistaken belief that heart failure patients need to live quietly and avoid exercise, the researchers noted.
  • In addition, about a third of all people surveyed mistakenly thought that heart failure was simply a natural part of aging, Remme said.

To increase the public awareness of heart failure, Remme and his colleagues are involved in media campaigns in several European countries. Their goal is to improve heart failure recognition and care, he said.

"More public awareness will help pave the way to better treatments and earlier diagnosis," Remme said.

Krumholz believes Americans may be just as unaware of the nature and prevalence of heart failure as their peers across the Atlantic.

"Despite heart failure being the No. 1 discharge diagnosis for Medicare beneficiaries, and probably the highest cost condition in the country, it seems relatively invisible from the public's perspective," he said.

"Not recognizing the importance of heart failure probably has implications with regard to early diagnosis, to directing the appropriate levels of funding to research, [and] to the organization of health-care delivery systems," he added.

More information

The American Heart Association can tell you more about heart failure.

SOURCES: Willem Remme, M.D., professor, medicine, and director, Sticares Cardiovascular Research Institute, Rhoon, Netherlands; Harlan M. Krumholz, M.D., professor, cardiology, Yale University Medical School, New Haven, Conn.; Aug. 31, 2005, European Heart Journal
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