Heart failure: A disease Europe cannot afford to ignore

The EU must act urgently on heart failure, writes Annie Schreijer-Pierik.

Annie Schreijer-Pierik | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Annie Schreijer-Pierik

17 Oct 2016

Heart failure is an often forgotten chronic condition that desperately needs policymakers' attention.

One in five of us risk developing heart failure in our lifetimes, and currently, the condition affects 15 million Europeans. And yet, awareness of the symptoms is worryingly low. For example, only three per cent of the general public can correctly identify all three 'red flag' symptoms - extreme breathlessness, fatigue and swollen ankles.

Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. It has a wide variety of causes, including high blood pressure, existing heart problems and diabetes. Heart failure is incurable, but can be prevented in many cases, and for those living with the condition, much can be done to avoid crisis and hospitalisation.


Heart failure presents an immense social and economic burden across Europe, and without concerted action, numbers will rise - by some 25 per cent by 2030. Today, heart failure is already the greatest cause of hospitalisation in those over 65.

Few member states have adopted national plans for heart failure, despite its central relevance to health and sustainable healthcare systems.

Major inequalities persist across Europe and many patients still do not receive high quality care based upon recognised clinical guidelines. Political leadership and oversight is often poor, or held back by inadequate data and limited knowledge of true costs.

Heart failure is clearly a pan-European issue which urgently needs concerted action after decades of neglect.

As European policymakers meet at this year's European Health Forum Gastein to discuss "Demographics and Diversity in Europe - New Solutions for Health", we need to put heart failure firmly on the agenda, and develop forward-thinking strategies.

On 19 October, I will be joined by MEPs from across the political spectrum to launch a new written declaration on heart failure, in cooperation with the Heart Failure Policy Network.

We must encourage comprehensive national plans on heart failure, which are key to driving improvements and greater political oversight of the condition, especially in ensuring adequate data collection. We need an EU-wide strategy that will support public awareness campaigns, patient advocacy, as well as exchanges of research and best practice in tackling heart failure. 

The EU must also do more to support training on heart failure among healthcare professionals, such as GPs and internists. Heart failure specialisation and accreditation of training for nurses and allied health professionals is also vital.

Many written declarations focused on specific diseases have been launched in the past. I agreed to lead on this particular declaration because I'm convinced that heart failure is an area where Europe needs to work together better, because patients and healthcare professionals believe this declaration is a unique and powerful moment to bring heart failure to the fore, and because success in addressing heart failure will also have significant benefits for all cardiovascular diseases across Europe.

Heart failure is a condition that Europe cannot afford to ignore and the EU has an important role to play in supporting member states to address it. Improving the lives of 15 million EU citizens is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.

Statistically, 150 of all MEPs today are at risk developing heart failure. So I urge all members to sign the Written Declaration to help the millions of heart failure sufferers gain the comprehensive care and support that they urgently need and prevent the condition in millions more.


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