The research, which tracked 15,000 UK heart failure patients for two years, suggests thousands of lives could be being shortened because of NHS failures to adhere to cardiac guidelines.
One in five people will develop heart failure – the term used when the heart becomes less effective at pumping blood around the body – within their lifetime, and it carries a high risk of early death.
More than half a million people are estimated to suffer from the condition and it is the leading cause of hospital admissions for over 65s.Under European guidelines, patients suffering from heart failure are supposed to be given a combination of drugs, costing pennies per pill, which used correctly have been shown to improve survival ratesby up to a quarter.
However, just 20 per cent of cases appeared to be receiving the right mix of medications at the right doses, the 2009 to 2011 study led by University of Glasgow found.
Presenting the findings at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Rome, lead author Dr Pardeep Jhund, a cardiologist at the University of Glasgow, said: “Our results highlight that rates of hospital admissions and deaths in patients with heart failure remain substantial.
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“Evidence-based, guideline-recommended therapies are underused, and used at lower doses than those shown to be effective. Prescription rates of therapies must increase, and therapies must be prescribed at higher doses, to reduce hospitalisations and help these patients live longer.”The research, funded by drugmaker Novartis, found that just 57 per cent of patients were prescribed a beta-blocker, which costs as little as 3p a tablet and reduces stress on the heart, and 31 per cent were given a mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist, which costs 6p a pill.
Only 80 per cent were given an ACE inhibitor, at 3p a tablet, or an ARB angiotensin receptor blocker, at 28p a pill – and of these most were given the wrong dose.
Prof Jeremy Pearson, the associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This demonstrates that doctors may not have been as astute as they should have in providing the most up-to-date evidence-based therapies, leading to some heart failure patients not be being optimally treated.”
He said some doctors might not be up to date, and wrongly think that older patients would not benefit from the drugs, when in fact the medication should be considered case by case.