One in every five people in developed countries is expected to develop heart failure despite the fact that this condition is largely preventable, experts have warned.
Heart failure is a potentially life-threatening condition which leads to the heart being unable to pump enough blood around the body. Symptoms include tiredness, shortness of breath, dizziness and swollen ankles.
According to the Heart Failure Association (HFA) of the European Society of Cardiology around 26 million people worldwide are affected and the condition can have a major impact on quality of life.
Those affected may become anxious or depressed and for those with breathlessness and fatigue, working and even socialising can be difficult.
Furthermore, almost half of people who are admitted to hospital with heart failure die within one year, and the majority of people with the condition die within five years.
"For patients with untreated heart failure, it feels as if every breath in and out is through a narrow straw. Their prognosis is worse than for most forms of cancer. But treatment at least doubles life expectancy and many cases could be prevented if patients knew what do to," commented Prof Andrew Clark of the British Society for Heart Failure.
It was pointed out that most types of heart failure are preventable and people who lead a healthy lifestyle reduce their risk significantly.
Meanwhile, deaths can be reduced among those who already have the condition if they are taught to recognise symptoms and seek immediate medical attention if these symptoms occur.
According to the HFA, the main warning signs of heart failure are increasing swelling in the legs, starting from the ankles and working upwards, and increased breathlessness especially when you are lying flat.
The association noted that public awareness of heart failure remains extremely low and the risk of death increases if hospital treatment is delayed by just four to six hours after symptoms develop.
However, many people wait hours or even days before seeking medical help, and many wrongly assume heart failure is just a normal part of ageing.
The HFA reminded the public that consuming a healthy diet, exercising regularly and not smoking lower the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity - all of which are risk factors for heart failure.