Heart Valve Disease

At least 5 million Americans have heart valve disease (HVD) which involves damage to one or more of the heart’s valves. While some types are not serious, others can lead to major complications—including death.  

The seriousness of HVD, combined with the fact that disease symptoms are often difficult to detect or dismissed as a normal part of aging, makes this lack of awareness dangerous.  

What is heart valve disease? 

Most valve diseases involve a damaged valve that disrupts blood flow by not opening or closing properly. Regurgitation is when a valve does not fully close and allows blood to leak backwards. It is also commonly called insufficiency, or a leaky valve. Stenosis is when a valve does not fully open to allow enough blood to flow through. It is also commonly called a sticky, narrowed, or stiff valve.

Most Americans know little to nothing about valve disease, and each year, an estimated 25,000 people in the U.S. die from HVD.

Each of four valves can have regurgitation or stenosis (sometimes both), although the aortic and mitral valves are the most likely to be damaged. When valve damage reduces blood flow, the heart has to work harder and the body gets less oxygen—leading to a number of symptoms.

However, people with valve disease do not always have symptoms, even if their disease is severe. For these people, a heart murmur is the most important clue. Others may have symptoms with less severe disease.

The only way to really know is to be diagnosed by a doctor. If you think you or someone you know could be suffering from heart valve disease, call a doctor to make an appointment today.  Rose Medical Center is a leader in treatment of heart valve disease; learn more about our heart program.

Who is at risk, and what are the symptoms to look out for?

  • Valve disease can be there at birth, or develop from damage later in life from calcification, other cardiovascular diseases and conditions, or infection.
  • Age is the greatest risk factor with 1 in 8 people ages 75 and older estimated to have moderate to severe HVD.
  • High blood pressure is a risk factor for HVD

Symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Pain, tightness, or discomfort in the chest
  • Fainting or feeling faint
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Decrease in exercise capacity
  • Swollen abdomen or ankles and feet

Many of these symptoms will only happen during activity, but as the disease gets worse they may also happen while resting. Fortunately, valve disease can usually be successfully treated with valve repair and replacement in patients of all ages.

This content originally appeared on LivingWithValveDisease and ValveDiseaseDay.