A mother-of-three living with heart failure has described her condition as an “invisible disability” and urged others to seek support.
Karen MacLaughlin, 57, is one of an estimated 90,000 patients living with the chronic illness.
She said the condition transformed her into a frail, fragile version of herself when she was diagnosed in January last year.
Monday marks the start of Heart Failure Awareness Week and experts want patients to embrace free Irish Heart Foundation help, without which, Ms McLaughlin insists, she would not have coped.
“My survival was a surprise to all, a large scar on my heart that would never recover following emergency stenting, a diagnosis of reduced ejection fraction heart failure and insertion of an ICD,” said the former Holles Street midwife from Sallynoggin in Dublin.
“The physical impacts and psychological fallout are completely overwhelming, with low mood and depression adding to the challenges.
“Fear becomes your daily companion. Fear of dying, your heart condition worsening, another heart attack. Every day is a fight, our invisible disability not recognised.”
She added: “The charity’s Facebook group Heart Support Network gives me the opportunity to see the stories of other people who face similar challenges and enables me to feel less alone and isolated.
“Living well with heart failure requires continuous self-management and the Irish Heart Foundation’s monthly meetings provide connection, valuable further education and relevant and practical advice which is hugely beneficial.”
Heart failure occurs when the organ stops working as well as it should and finds it more difficult to pump blood around the body efficiently.
Lucinda McNerney, the Irish Heart Foundation’s heart failure programme manager, said the charity is embarking on a national drive to support people who desperately need help managing their condition.
“People feel shock and trauma, and there can be an isolation after the diagnosis of heart failure, but with the right supports, heart failure is manageable,” she said.
“We have patients in our network aged 30 and above whose daily lives have changed – a change in work status, having to take medication, lower energy. All this can be helped with access to quality information and support, both from our healthcare professionals and talking to people on a similar journey.
“Our supports, which include counselling, online meetings, a nurse support line, exercise classes, newsletters, a podcast series and peer-to-peer support, help patients and their families to keep well both physically and mentally.”
The programme also allows people to access regular information sessions on medication, lifestyle changes, self-management and diet with healthcare professionals.
Consultant cardiologist at the Mater Hospital and chair of the Irish Heart Foundation’s heart failure council Dr Emer Joyce says heart failure can arise independent of age.
Lifestyle factors such as diet, smoking, excess alcohol consumption and lack of exercise are fuelling increased prevalence of cases among younger people.
“Most people will find a diagnosis overwhelming. One of the first roles that I have is to reassure them that heart failure does not mean their heart is not working or that it is failing,” she says.
“It means that it has become inefficient at performing its job adequately so we want to do everything to make the heart as efficient as possible.
“You can live with heart failure and people can actually get their heart failure into remission.
“People who are most likely to achieve that are those who not only follow the medications, but follow all the lifestyle factors such as limiting salt, maintaining a healthy diet, being physically active, keeping a healthy BMI and minimising any potential cardiotoxins.”