Researchers say that patients with heart failure and their families can help improve prognosis if they are taught to recognize the signs of worsening condition and seek immediate medical help.
They said that recognition of the signs and symptoms of a worsening condition, therefore, will help minimise any delay in treatment and reduce complication rates.
"Any delayed recognition of these signs is associated with an increased rate of hospitalisation and complications, including mortality," Professor Ferenc Follath from the University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland, said at at Heart Failure Congress 2009.
The symptoms include shortness of breath (dyspnea), found to be evident in 92 percent of acute heart failure patients, peripheral oedema (in 35 percent), cough (in 33 percent), breathing difficulty when lying flat (orthopnea, in 30 percent), chest pain (in 29 percent), nocturnal dyspnea (in 28 percent), fatigue (in 17 percent) and palpitations (in 7 percent).
Follath said that shortness of breath is by far the most common presenting symptom, and families should recognise that it can be described in various ways - from "suffocation" to "tight chest" to "heavy breathing".
However, he warned that many elderly patients with heart failure may have co-existing conditions with non-cardiac symptoms, and these may be misleading.
Therefore, careful instruction in a simple understandable way is essential to ensure early warning and speedy treatment.
Previous studies have found that patients hospitalised with acute heart failure had experienced considerable delays in seeking medical care.
"This is why it is so important to instruct patients and their families how to recognise the symptoms of acute heart failure to seek medical help without loosing critical time of hours or even days before appropriate treatment can be started," Follath said.