Actor Brian Blessed is talking part in a new campaign created by the British Society for Heart Failure (BSH), the professional association of heart failure specialists in the UK.
The campaign, supported by professional associations, charities and Royal Colleges, is to be launched during Heart Failure Awareness Week, 10-16 May 2021. Called ‘Freedom from Failure – the F Word’, it is designed to raise awareness of heart failure and to encourage people to check for and seek medical help early if they recognise the most common symptoms of heart failure:
Fighting for breath
Fluid build-up, often noticeable in the ankles
Blessed, no stranger to heart problems himself, with his well-documented use of expletives and superhuman enthusiasm for life was a natural choice for the campaign. He appears in campaign videos, posters and in social media messaging. In his own words: “Don’t let heart failure stop you from fulfilling your dreams”, Blessed wants to reassure people who recognise symptoms of heart failure in themselves and loved ones for the first time (and those already diagnosed) that you can live a life free from the burden of heart failure symptoms under specialist guidance and care.
The ‘Freedom from Failure – the F Word’ campaign, set to run over the next 5 years at least, draws attention to the challenge posed by heart failure as the endpoint for the majority of cardiovascular disease and reflects the increasing burden it is placing directly and indirectly on our health systems and community. There are approximately 1 million people with heart failure in the UK[[i]] and a further 200,000 people are newly diagnosed each year. The risk of death from heart failure is higher than for some of the most common cancers[[ii]] therefore heart failure should be recognised, detected and treated with the same urgency as a disease as malignant as cancer[[iii]]. According to the recent NICE Impact report, 80% of heart failure is diagnosed in hospital but 40% of people had symptoms that should have triggered an earlier assessment in primary care. This suggests that many people who are living with undiagnosed heart failure[i] are only seeking medical help as an emergency admission into hospital.
A 77 year old lady in Devon, admitted to Intensive Care with CoViD-19 and looked after by a heart failure nurse (who like many others had been redeployed in the pandemic), was incredibly unwell and went into cardiac arrest several times. She was diagnosed with heart failure during that admission and has subsequently been cared for by the heart failure nurse community team (including the nurse who met her on ICU) and discharged on optimised treatment.
Fighting for breath/ breathlessness (on exertion or even at rest), a common reason for a doctor visit, is difficult to differentiate from other conditions which can add delays to correct diagnosis. Laurence (67 years) in London was treated for bronchitis for 6 months and Andy (59 years) in Rutland for asthma prior to a diagnosis of heart failure. Yet an easy, critical early diagnostic test which can be done by the General Practice team and is available in most of the UK, is the blood test for NT-pro BNP. It can indicate if symptoms are likely to be due to heart failure (or not), how urgently further diagnostic tests are needed and helps set a patient onto the correct pathway with subsequent referral to the appropriate service or specialist.
BSH Chair, Dr Simon Williams, Consultant Cardiologist, Heart Failure Specialist commented: “Heart failure is arguably the biggest success story of modern day medicine, we have made extraordinary progress over the last 2 decades. And whilst it remains a burdensome, often debilitating condition, with appropriate management it is possible for people to live well with heart failure. Outcomes can be dramatically improved through earlier, faster diagnosis and expediting optimal treatment onto guideline recommended therapies[[v]]. This is an important aim of the care we provide as Heart Failure Specialists.”
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