“Heart failure? Never heard of it!”

If Germans were asked to guess which illness accounts for the most hospital admissions in this country – the answers would probably range from cancer to heart attacks and strokes to back problems.
The proportion of those who correctly name heart failure is probably vanishingly small. The condition, also known as cardiac insufficiency, is hardly known outside specialist circles. And this despite a horror record: the probability of survival is similar to that of cancer, about every second patient dies within four years of diagnosis; in Germany, heart failure is considered the second most common cause of death among women, and the fourth most common among men.

Measured against this threat, everyone should have heard of heart failure, at least in the later decades of life. However, this is not the case, as experienced heart doctors confirm. “Compared to heart attacks and strokes, knowledge about the dangers of heart failure is not very widespread,” states Dr. Frank Beekmann, a cardiologist practising in Berlin-Friedrichshain. “Unfortunately, this also applies to the symptoms – many patients don’t get the idea that their shortness of breath during exertion, for example, could be a heart failure symptom.”

Shortness of breath or even coughing can occur if pulmonary oedema has formed as a result of the heart failure. Oedema, i.e. water retention in the legs, is even more common. And a clear decrease in physical strength can also be a symptom.

More men affected

These symptoms are not always correctly interpreted at an early stage, but are initially wrongly interpreted as a symptom of old age. This is obvious insofar as heart failure occurs mainly in people over the age of 70 – the risk of the disease increases with age. In men, heart failure, which restricts the supply of blood and oxygen to the body, not only occurs much more frequently, but also earlier.

From the age of 60 at the latest, or even earlier if you have a predisposition, the above symptoms should therefore not be ignored or accepted. Early treatment can counteract the progression of heart failure, even if the condition cannot be cured.