Who's at risk for heart valve disease?
Although the number of people affected by heart valve disease is considerably smaller than the number of people who have more common conditions, such as high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, heart valve disease has become an increasing problem in recent years due to increased life expectancy.
Valve disease and age
Heart valve disease is more common among older people. Today, thanks to improved quality of medical care and increased attention on prevention, people are living longer. As a result, heart valve disease has become a more common problem. As we age, our heart valves can become lined with calcium deposits that cause the valve flaps to thicken and become stiffer.
Valve disease and related health conditions
People who have had rheumatic fever (PDF)(link opens in new window) or infective endocarditis are at greater risk for heart valve problems. Heart problems such as heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmia or previous heart valve conditions from birth (congenital heart defects) also can increase the chance for developing valve problems. Childhood cancer survivors who had radiation therapy to the chest also have an increased prevalence of heart valve disease later in life.
Valve disease and health risks
Many people live long and healthy lives and never realize they have a mild valve problem. However, left untreated, advanced valve disease can cause heart failure, stroke, blood clots or death due to sudden cardiac arrest.
People who have been diagnosed with a heart murmur, a defect like a bicuspid aortic valve, mitral valve prolapse or a mild form of valve disease should maintain regular check-ups with a health care provider and should be aware of possible symptoms should they start or worsen.
If surgery is needed to repair or replace a valve, antibiotics might be needed before dental procedures to help protect against infective endocarditis. You should discuss your risk and the recommendations with your health care provider.
Aging people should also be aware of changes that may come on gradually. Not all declines in energy or stamina are related to “the normal problems of getting older.” When the heart fails to pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the body, symptoms may appear. Problems such as fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or discomfort and lightheadedness can indicate treatable problems related to the heart.
Do you notice routine activities such as walking faster or taking the stairs have become more difficult?
Have you stopped doing enjoyable activities that you used to do with relative ease?
Be sure to take notes on any changes like these and describe them to your health care provider.