In an important effort to gain an understanding of Americans’ knowledge of and attitudes towards heart failure, a condition which currently affects nearly six million people in the US, the American Heart Association (AHA) recently commissioned an online survey of over 1,600 people (approximately 1,000 members of the general public, 400 people living with heart failure, and 200 caregivers). The first of its kind and an intended annual undertaking, the survey polled respondents on a variety of matters related to heart failure, its causes, and its symptoms. The results of the survey were startling. Answers showed that, even amongst patients and caregivers, significant knowledge gaps and misunderstandings about the disease are prevalent.
A serious, chronic condition, heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently enough to supply the body’s needs. However, though 70% of survey respondents claimed they were aware of heart failure, 58% mistakenly identified the condition as a natural cause of death which results when the heart stops beating.
An additional misconception, held by nearly half of all respondents (46%), is that heart failure is a silent killer which shows no symptoms. Such a misunderstanding can be dangerous given that prompt and correct treatment, which is critical in battling the condition, necessitates proper recognition of symptoms. Warning signs of heart failure include swollen legs, ankles, or feet, weight gain of over three pounds in a day, and difficulty breathing; however, many respondents confused symptoms of heart failure with those of a heart attack.
Nearly 900,000 new heart failure cases are diagnosed in the US every year. If people living with heart failure are to manage their condition and lead full and enjoyable lives, it is crucial that they, together with their caregivers and the general public, develop a better understanding of the disease. To that end, AHA is continuing to seek feedback from patients and caregivers on experiences managing heart failure in order to better develop effective solutions.