By Anya Creaser
How would you feel if you were told you had heart failure? Once you had recovered from the shock, what are the questions you’d ask? European Heart Failure Awareness Days aim to combat all those blank looks in doctors’ offices.
So you have heart failure and now you have to live with it. But you’re not alone; millions of people out there have heart failure. That’s millions of people who struggle to make their daily lives just a bit better every day. And it’s possible. That’s another aim of the Awareness Days — making people’s lives better every day.
Anybody can get heart failure in many different circumstances, though it is most common in older people. Heart failure is a serious medical condition but it doesn’t mean that your heart is going to stop; it means that your heart is finding it difficult to pump your blood round your body to meet the needs of your daily activities. This means that you can have heart failure for a long time and live with it to the best of your ability.
It is with this in mind that the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology initiated the first Heart Failure Awareness Day in 2010. The lack of knowledge among doctors as well as the general public concerned heart failure specialists who were looking for a way to access potential sufferers, help those already with the condition as well as their families, and inform local doctors and nurses. As a result, they turned to local heart failure organisations which are usually linked to national cardiac societies. Read the report from the very first Awareness Day.
Since then, the event has grown dramatically. Where at first a hospital in one country held an open house and a newspaper in another country published an article, now the Awareness Days have a huge variety of events from experienced organisers who plan countrywide to newcomers who start small but with big ambitions.
This year, countries all over Europe will hold their events on one or more days over the weekend of 10-12 May. The Heart Failure Association offers a basic structure for events and has created a poster and comprehensive leaflets that can be translated and tailored for each country. Organisers can also download a web banner for their local websites. In order to reach the maximum of people, the Association has created an exhaustive patient information website, translated into six languages.
Some countries organise walks, others hold public events where blood pressure readings are done. Informational leaflets are given out and medical staff give talks on heart failure. Most organisations contact local newspapers and television and radio stations to reach a wider audience.
Alongside newcomers Cyprus, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, and Belarus — all enthusiastically preparing their events and media campaigns — the Russian Federation organisers have extended the dates of their Awareness Days so that they can cover their vast territory. In one month, they will go to 30 cities and try to reach over 20,000 patients. Germany has spread its awareness day programme over 16 hospitals, introduced a public cooking programme on The Mediterranean Kitchen, arranged an art competition in regional schools on the subject “My heart – A technical miracle,” and created a walk-through artery for their visitor health screenings. In the UK, the Awareness Day events are very much nurse-run. Read what is happening around Europe on 10-12 May 2013.
Those who are aware of the problem and closest to their patients are working hard to see that the message gets out to those with the condition and those who live with sufferers: find out all you can about heart failure; you’ll feel better, prolong your life, and enjoy it more. This is the essence of the Awareness Day campaigns. Europe has woken up and is taking up the challenge by spreading the word.
Anya Creaser works for the Heart Failure Association, a registered branch of the European Society of Cardiology. With Prof Petar Seferovic, Coordinator of the HFA Committee for National Heart Failure Societies, she has coordinated the Awareness Days since the inception in 2010.
The European Journal of Heart Failure, edited by Professor Dirk van Veldhuisen, is the International Journal of the European Society of Cardiology dedicated to the advancement of knowledge in the field of heart failure.
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Image credit: Male anatomy of human organs in x-ray view. Image by janulla, iStockphoto.