Elaine Harris was just 48 years old when she had a heart attack. Her heart muscle was so badly damaged that at the age of 50 she is now living with severe heart failure and is unable to work.
She is now waiting for an assessment to see if she is suitable for a heart transplant.
"The last thing I expected was to have a heart attack when I was 48, but to then be told I had severe heart failure was completely devastating," she said.
"My life has completely changed now, I no longer work, I sleep at least 16 hours a day and I can’t walk very far at all without resting."
Unfortunately Harris' story is far from unique. New figures from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) show that the number of heart failure hospital visits has increased by more than a third in the last 10 years.
The BHF figures show that the number of hospital visits by heart failure patients increased by 36% from 107,000 to 146,000 between 2004/5 and 2014/15.
The charity is now warning that more research is urgently needed to reduce the number of people with heart failure and improve treatments to halt the increase in hospital visits – which places a massive burden on the NHS, accounting for more than £2 billion per year.
Hospital visits include all admissions, outpatient appointments and A&E attendances at NHS hospitals in England. This is the highest annual number of heart failure episodes in more than a decade.
GP lists show that there are now 411,000 people in England diagnosed with heart failure, an incurable condition, compared to 402,000 reported 12 months previously.
Across the UK there are more than 500,000 people diagnosed with heart failure and 75,000 people under the age of 65.
According to the BHF, heart failure is a disabling condition and severe heart failure can have a worse life expectancy than many cancers.
It is most commonly caused following a heart attack when the heart muscle suffers irreparable damage and can no longer pump blood efficiently around the body.
A heart attack happens when there is a sudden loss of blood flow to a part of your heart muscle
In severe cases, people with heart failure are left unable to perform regular day to day activities like walking upstairs or are left breathless, even when resting.
Sadly, up to a third of patients admitted to hospital with heart failure will die within 12 months.
The heart research charity says this rapidly rising trend in hospital visits is down to the ageing population and improving heart attack survival rates. The BHF says donations are urgently needed to fund more research to prevent heart attacks, improve treatments for heart failure and find ways to reduce and repair the damage caused by a heart attack.
Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the BHF, said: “It is deeply concerning that we are seeing such an alarming increase in the number of heart failure patients attending hospital.
"Our research has helped to drastically improve survival rates from heart attack and seven in 10 people now survive. But this means an increasing number of people are subsequently living with the debilitating impact of heart failure.
"Heart failure can leave sufferers constantly short of breath and sadly many will die within a year of being admitted to hospital. We urgently need to fund more research into the condition to find new and better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat heart failure."
Commenting on the latest findings, Harris added: "I still live my life to the fullest I can – but living with this condition has meant a new and restricted way of life and I am completely dependent on my family.
"The British Heart Foundation’s research is so important to try and find a cure for heart failure so that patients, like me, would be given hope of a better quality of life."
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