It is a man, between 65-66 years of age, who predominantly falls ill. He has been on hypertension treatment for a dozen years, however, his heart rate is still too high – 80 beats per minute. His heart is so weak that he cannot go up to the second floor without stopping.

This is a typical Polish patient with heart failure – a condition which occurs in our country more and more frequently. Myocardial infarction is no longer the major cause of death of the Polish people. Currently, the most serious danger is heart failure. 1 mln Poles have been suffering from the condition and 8-9 mln are at risk of developing it.

Do not underestimate the symptoms

Prof. Jarosław Drożdż, the Cardiology Teaching Hospital, 1st Department of Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery, the Medical University of Łódź, specifies that until recently, each year 100 thousand Poles had myocardial infarction. Today there are less of the so-called acute coronary syndromes – heart attack, as described by the doctors – but 100 thousand people are admitted to hospitals due to heart failure each year.

The first symptoms of heart failure are usually not very alarming and normally ignored. A person with this disorder can only have a cough (so-called “heart cough"), abdominal pain, poor appetite, swelling of the feet, shortness of breath during physical exertion. If there are such symptoms, a person should consult a doctor.

If a sick person does not follow instructions, heart failure will be exacerbated. Shortness of breath will occur even during the smallest effort and then also by night. Breath will be shallow in the sleep, nocturnal cough, ponderousness after exertion, increased thirst, and decreased urine output will develop. Many sick persons go to a doctor precisely in this condition.

In 62% of Polish patients, heart failure is at the most advanced stages, i.e. class III and IV. Even minor physical effort – washing or dressing – causes difficulties and is tiring. The symptoms of heart failure after exertion persist in a person for some time also when at rest. At that point the patient’s life is at great risk.

Treatment reduces the risk of death

According to Przemysław Leszek, the Teaching Hospital of Heart Failure and Transplantology, the Institute of Cardiology in Warsaw, every second person suffering from heart failure dies after four years. It is a condition more lethal than prostate, breast and urinary bladder malignant tumours. The quality of life of the sick persons is as bad as in patients with chronic renal failure dialysed three times a week, and worse than in persons suffering from depression and viral hepatitis.

The risk of death can be reduced by the appropriate treatment. Prof. Drożdż emphasises the availability of all the most important medications. These are inexpensive and improve physical functioning as well as mood. The most commonly used are converting enzyme inhibitors, beta blockers, angiotensin receptor antagonists, diuretics and digitalis glycosides.

Each of the medicines decreases the risk of sudden cardiac death by 30%. In combination with other pharmaceuticals, the risk of death is even a few times lower, according to the specialist.

The majority of unwell persons take at least 12 tablets per day. If they are well-matched, they can delay the development of the condition and decrease the risk of death at the same time.

Unfortunately, Poles still do not care about their hearts. They have few check-ups and undertake treatment too late. Consequently, almost half the people with a history of heart failure are under 65 years of age while in Europe the majority of patients (65%) are of retirement age.

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