25.09.2022

People care more about POT HOLES than heart failure

Heart failure receives less public attention than potholes despite affecting nearly one million Britons, scientists say. Researchers at Lancaster University studied more than 2billion words from books, social media and parliamentary speeches.

When looking at politicians’ words in particular, they found potholes were mentioned 37 times more often than ‘heart failure’.

This is despite heart failure costing the NHS £2billion a year and being one of the country’s biggest killers.

For comparison, around 20,000 drivers in England and Wales broke down because of potholes in 2021. Councils filled in 1.7million cracks last year, at a cost of less than £100million.

The researchers, led by Dr Jane Demmen, acknowledged that torn up roads cause frustration and inconvenience as well as ‘some threat to health and quality of life’.

But they said potholes are ‘arguably less important and urgent’ than heart failure.

The team called for ‘major efforts’ to boost the profile of heart failure to ensure it gets ‘equal billing’ with conditions such as cancer in health policy and future investment.

Researchers at Lancaster University studied more than 2billion words from books, social media and parliamentary speeches. They found that potholes were mentioned 37 times more often than ‘heart failure

The graph shows the number of times ‘heart failure’ (red line) and ‘potholes’ (green line) were mentioned in parliamentary debates between January 1945 and February 2021 per million words

The graph shows the number of times ‘heart failure’ (red line), ‘cancer’ (green line) and ‘dementia’ (blue line) were mentioned in UK parliamentary debates between January 1945 and February 2021 per million words

WHAT IS HEART FAILURE?

Heart failure occurs when the heart is not pumping blood around the body as well as it should.

Around 200,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with heart failure every year and 920,000 are thought to be living with the disease.

It usually occurs because the heart muscle has been damaged, which can be triggered by a heart attack.

Heart failure does not mean the heart has stopped working. It means it needs some support to work better.

It can occur at any age, but is most common in older people.

Heart failure is a long-term condition that tends to get gradually worse over time.

Its symptoms includes breathlessness, feeling tired most of the time and finding exercise exhausting, feeling lightheaded or fainting, as well as swollen ankles and legs.

Heart failure is usually cause because the heart muscle has been damaged, which can be triggered by a heart attack, high blood pressure or heart rhythm problems.

Treatments aims to control its symptoms for as long as possible and slow down its progression.

These include eating healthier, exercising and stopping smoking, as well as medicines, devices implanted in the chest and surgery.

Heart failure occurs when the heart is not pumping blood around the body as well as it should.

It happens when the heart muscle has become too weak or stiff over time, which can be caused by heart attacks as well as high blood pressure.

Survival rates are poor, with a quarter of people dying within two years. This rises to roughly 65 per cent within a decade.

The number of sufferers is also expected to soar due to ageing populations.

But the researchers, also from Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the National Institute for Health Research, said heart failure has not received as much recognition as other serious health conditions.

The team used the Oxford English Corpus (OEC) of 21st century English-language texts — a database of books, social media posts, newspapers, blogs and parliamentary debates amassing 2billion words.

They logged the number of times heart failure, cancer and dementia came up and the context in which they were written about.

Their analysis, published in the scientific journal Open Heart, shows the term ‘heart failure’ is written just 4.3 times per million words.

For comparison, ‘cancer’ is mentioned 82 times per million words. However the rate for ‘dementia’ is slightly lower at 3.7.

This equates to cancer being discussed around 19 times more frequently than heart failure, and 22 times more often than dementia.

This is ‘disproportionately high’, as the number of new cancer cases are only twice as high as heart failure and dementia.

Around 200,000 Brits are diagnosed with heart failure and dementia annually, while 65,000 die from the illnesses.

Meanwhile, 375,000 are told they have cancer and 167,000 die from the diseases.

The researchers noted that potholes in road and pavements got more attention than heart failure, when looking specifically at UK parliamentary debates.

In 2018, ‘potholes’ were mentioned more than 10 times per million words — 37 times more than ‘heart failure’ which was said 0.28 times per million words.

The researchers said: ‘If we take frequency of mentions as an indicator of importance, the topic of [heart failure] has been much less important in UK parliamentary debates in recent years than even potholes in roads and pavements.

‘It is crucial that all stakeholders involved in [heart failure] redouble their efforts to spread awareness regarding the seriousness of the condition and the pressing need to significantly improve investment in prevention, early diagnosis, and better management.’

Separate analysis of the context around heart failure showed it was discussed in a more technical and formulaic way and lacked tales of personal experience that often occur when cancer is discussed.

The team noted that there was a debate on heart failure in the House of Commons in March 2021 but this was not accessible at the time of the study, so was not included.

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