An ageing population, improving survival from heart attack, and increasing prevalence of diabetes and obesity, may result in a rise in the number of Australians with heart failure in the future, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
In medical terminology 'heart failure' describes the condition where the heart is failing to pump blood around the body as well as before.
The report, Heart failure: what of the future? shows that the condition is the third largest cause of cardiovascular deaths in Australia after coronary heart disease and stroke, accounting for 3,205 deaths in 2001.
An estimated 300,000 Australians have chronic heart failure, with 30,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
Once diagnosed, prognosis is poor, particularly for the aged. Recent estimates of survival based on overseas findings indicate a five-year survival rate of 41% in men and 55% in women.
Despite this, rates of hospitalisation and deaths from heart failure have fallen by about 2% per year for both Australian men and women over the past decade. Deaths in hospital fell by 4-5% a year over this period.
Hospitalisation and death rates from this condition among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are 2-3 times higher than for other Australians.
Report author, Bonnie Field, said that heart failure was 'primarily a disease of the elderly' and the projected increase in this population would 'undoubtedly cause an increase in the number of new cases'.
'Somewhat paradoxically, the increasing rates of survival from heart attack will also contribute to more instances of heart failure.
'Fatality rates for heart attack fell by 12-16% over the six years to 1999-00, but previous heart attack is a common cause of heart failure among men, so the increasing number of survivors may raise the incidence of the condition among older men.'
The report also shows that Australia, along with other developed countries, is experiencing an increase in the prevalence of obesity and diabetes.
'Obesity is strongly associated with both diabetes and heart failure, and people with diabetes have a 2-8 times greater risk of heart failure compared with people without diabetes,' Ms Field said.