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National Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day

National Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day

Heart valve disease (HVD) isn't the most common form of heart disease, but it's still widely prevalent. A potential 11 million Americans are estimated to suffer from this disease that involves damage to one or more of the heart's four valves, the membranes that regulate blood flow throughout the heart.

 Heart Valve Diagram

The Facts About Heart Valve Disease

Despite its prevalence, heart valve disease is often not well understood, even by the groups of people most likely to develop it:

  • Approximately 2.5 percent of Americans are estimated to have heart valve disease.
  • 25,000 Americans die from HVD every year.
  • Less than 1 in 4 American adults know much about HVD, according to surveys.
  • 30 percent of survey respondents over 65 are unaware of HVD.
  • Over two-thirds of patients with HVD did not know about the disease before their diagnosis.
  • 6 in 10 HVD patients were diagnosed due to a routine checkup.

 Types of Heart Disease

Types and Symptoms

The heart has four valves that make sure your blood flows normally. These valves are small flaps that open and close during each heartbeat, moving blood in the correct direction through your heart. When damage occurs to one or more of these valves, a number of conditions may occur:

  • Regurgitation: When valve flaps prolapse, or bulge backwards, they don't close properly. This causes blood to leak backward into your heart.
  • Stenosis: When the valve flaps stiffen or thicken, sometimes fusing together. This causes reduced blood flow.
  • Atresia: Often tricuspid atresia, a congenital heart disease where the tricuspid valve isn't formed, leading to a complete blockage between chambers of the heart.

Heart valve disease may be asymptomatic for years, and it's thought that even the estimated number of people with the disease may be low. In addition, many people dismiss symptoms as naturally accompanying old age. It's important to pay attention to your body and speak to a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Heart murmur: abnormal heartbeat that can be heard when listening through a stethoscope.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath: especially when active or when lying down.
  • Fainting.
  • Dizziness.
  • Swelling of ankles and feet.

It's particularly important to see a cardiologist if you have a heart murmur. Not all heart murmurs are indicative of complications or HVD, but proper screening is vital.


 Heart Valve Imaging

Risk Factors and Complications

The single biggest risk factor for heart valve disease is age. Prevalence rates jump significantly with advancing age. From ages 18 to 44, less than 1% of the U.S. population has HVD; this jumps to 8.5% between 65 and 74, and to 13.2% above age 75.

Other risk factors may include:

  • Congenital heart defects: conditions present from birth such as atresia.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Diabetes.
  • History of certain infections that can affect the heart, such as rheumatic fever, or infective endocarditis, in which bacteria enters the bloodstream and settles in the heart lining.
  • History of heart disease or heart attack.

The complications caused by heart valve disease are significant and potentially fatal. They include:

  • Heart rhythm abnormalities.
  • Blood clots.
  • Stroke.
  • Heart failure.
  • Death.


 Heart Valve Replacement

Treatment and Prevention

The best thing you can do initially for heart valve disease is get screened if there are irregularities with your heartbeat. Treating issues with your valves at the right time is crucial. Otherwise, continue living your heart-healthy lifestyle! Regular exercise, a healthy body weight, a low-sodium diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and not smoking are well-known counters to developing other forms of heart disease. Doctors are still studying the impact of a healthy lifestyle on HVD, but it's always a good idea to live one.

If you have heart valve disease and it's affecting the blood flow in your heart, it will likely require repair or replacement. This sounds intimidating but recovery statistics and quality of life for patients who receive proper treatment are high. There are many options here:

  • Balloon valvuloplasty: expansion of the heart valve with a balloon inserted through a catheter.
  • Valve replacement: the full replacement of a heart valve with a mechanical one or one made of human or animal tissue.
  • Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR): for patients who may be high-risk for standard replacement surgery, this is the replacement of a damaged aortic valve with a new one via a minimally invasive catheter.
  • Ross Procedure: replacing a damaged aortic valve with your own pulmonary valve, which is replaced with a donor valve.
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