Burden of Valve Disease
As many as 11 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.
Most HVD involves 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. Each of the four valves can have regurgitation or stenosis (sometimes both), although the aortic and mitral valves are most likely to be damaged.
HVD 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 10 people ages 75 and older estimated to have moderate to severe HVD.
When valve damage reduces blood flow, the heart has to work harder and the body gets less oxygen—leading to a number of symptoms which 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; and swollen abdomen or ankles and feet.
However, people with HVD do not always have symptoms, even if their disease is severe. For these people, a heart murmur is the most important clue. For those who experience symptoms, they may be dismissed as a “normal” part of aging.
Each year, an estimated 25,000 people in the U.S. die from HVD. For patients with severe aortic stenosis, their survival rate is as low as 50% at 2 years after the onset of symptoms and 20% at 5 years. Fortunately, valve disease can usually be successfully treated with valve repair and replacement in patients of all ages
Lack of Awareness
A recent survey of more than 2,000 adults in the U.S. found that while over half have heard of heart valve disease (HVD), less than one in four know somewhat or a great deal about HVD. Although awareness increases with age, 30 percent of respondents over the age of 65 say they know nothing about HVD.
An in-depth analysis of more than 400 individuals diagnosed with HVD found that more than two-thirds knew a limited amount or nothing about HVD prior to their diagnosis. And 6 in 10 of the surveyed HVD patients were diagnosed only because they went to see a health care professional for a regular check-up or some other issue.
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.