Lack of understanding of common heart condition leads to missed treatment opportunities, study suggests

  Man sitting holding a book  Credit: Aaron Andrew Ang

Poor awareness of a condition known as Heart Failure with preserved Ejection Fraction (HFpEF) – the cause of a half of all cases of heart failure in England – could be hindering opportunities to improve care for patients, say researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester, and Keele.

HFpEF – pronounced ‘heff peff’ – is a condition whereby heart muscles are too stiff, preventing the organ’s chambers from filling properly with blood. Symptoms include shortness of breath, swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or in the lower back or abdomen, and extreme tiredness. It affects half of the 920,000 people in the UK with heart failure but frequently goes undiagnosed.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that ‘integrated’ care should be provided for HFpEF, bringing together specialist clinicians with GPs and primary care, and including support for patients to help them manage their condition.

In a new study published today in the British Journal of General Practice, the researchers argue that the problems they have identified may help to explain why the condition is difficult to diagnose and why there is a persistent gap between the national guidance on managing the condition and the kind of service patients receive.

The problems were uncovered in a study carried out in the East of England, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, in which 50 people with HFpEF, nine carers and 73 clinicians, were interviewed. The clinicians included GPs and nurses from 26 GP practices, as well as heart failure specialist nurses and cardiologists from nine hospitals.

The team used a theoretical framework known as Normalisation Process Theory to make sense of the large amount of data generated by the interviews. The theory considers how healthcare interventions are integrated into routine practice, or ‘normalised’.

For any intervention to be routinely adopted, there needs to be a clear understanding – and differentiation between – aspects of the illness, tests and treatments, for example. The team found that this understanding is often missing for the clinicians dealing with patients experiencing HFpEF. In addition, some patients described how they were not aware they had the condition despite severe symptoms and, in some cases, multiple hospital admissions, and were unclear on how the condition can be best managed.

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Image:  Man sitting holding a book

Credit: Aaron Andrew Ang

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge


The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

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