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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.
Despite its prevalence, heart valve disease is often not well understood, even by the groups of people most likely to develop it:
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:
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:
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.
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:
The complications caused by heart valve disease are significant and potentially fatal. They include:
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: