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Marc O'Sullivan
Heart Health

'I would wake up at night panting for breath but I didn’t want to admit something was wrong'

Symptoms of heart failure occur when your heart is not pumping blood around the body efficiently

THE IRISH HEART Foundation has launched a campaign to highlight the symptoms of heart failure which affects 90,000 people in Ireland. 

According to a survey carried out by the charity, 46% of people believe heart failure is similar to cardiac arrest – commonly known as a heart attack – which is when the heart stops or shuts downs.

However, the charity said heart failure is a “life-threatening condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood around the body, as the walls of the heart become too weak or too stiff to work properly”.

It is calling on the public to take note of the symptoms associated with the “debilitating condition” which include shortness of breath, swollen ankles and fatigue. 

A new website has also been launched – - where members of the public can go online and check if they are experiencing any heart failure symptoms. 

Sports broadcaster and presenter Michael Lyster, who is heading up the campaign, spoke about his own experiences living with heart failure. 

“It’s human nature to try to explain away symptoms when we are ill – we don’t want to confront that something might be wrong,” he said. 

“Looking back, I was experiencing all the classic symptoms of heart failure. I was constantly tired, my ankles were swollen, and I would wake up at night panting for breath – but I didn’t want to admit something was wrong for a long time.

“Thankfully, I eventually heeded the signs and got professional help before it was too late. Don’t ignore the signs of heart failure - I would urge anyone experiencing shortness of breath, fatigue and swollen ankles to contact their GP without delay,” he added. 

Lyster retired as the host of The Sunday Game on RTÉ last year as he approached 65-years-old and said he has a renewed interest in looking after his health. 

“While I thoroughly enjoyed my career, I have to say that I am relishing my retirement, spending more time doing other things I love and enjoying quality time with my family.

“I’m able to do this by actively looking after my health. It is possible to live well with heart failure – it doesn’t have to slow you down once treated properly.”

Dr Angie Brown, a consultant cardiologist and medical director with the Heart Foundation said the research showed “people mistakenly think the symptoms of heart failure are similar to those of a heart attack”. 

“The awareness campaign aims to educate people about the actual symptoms of heart failure which people should be vigilant for, and to reassure people that heart failure can be managed if diagnosed and treated early.”


Symptoms of heart failure occur when your heart is not pumping blood around the body efficiently and allowing excess fluid to pool in your lungs and your limbs. 

The most common symptoms associated with heart failure are:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath, especially with activity
  • Shortness of breath when lying flat
  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Weight gain, over a short period of time i.e. days
  • Loss of appetite and abdominal swelling
  • Dizziness or near fainting episodes
  • Irritable cough, sometimes producing frothy sputum
  • Sudden severe breathlessness waking one from sleep – this requires urgent attention

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