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Know the Symptoms, Risks, and Treatments for Heart Valve Disease

Health Hub
Author name: Lee Health

As we get older, we may not have as much energy. We may lose our breath more quickly. We may become unsteady on our feet. These are all situations associated with normal aging.

But for some of us, they’re also symptoms of heart valve disease, which affects millions of Americans who are unaware they may have the disease.

“Because symptoms of heart valve disease can be subtle, they’re often dismissed as normal signs of aging,” says Dr. Brian Hummel, a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon with Shipley Cardiothoracic Center. “That’s why the Center is proud to support Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day on Feb. 22.”

National Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day recognizes the specific risks and symptoms of heart valve disease, improving detection and treatment, and ultimately, saving lives. Each year, more than 25,000 people in the U.S. die from heart valve disease.

Fortunately, heart valve disease can usually be successfully treated with valve repair and replacement in patients of all ages, Dr. Hummel says.

“Valve disease can be present at birth or develop from damage later in life from calcification, other cardiovascular diseases, and conditions, or infection,” Dr. Hummel notes. “Age is the greatest risk factor with 1 in 10 people ages 75 and older estimated to have moderate to severe valve disease, which can gradually worsen without notice.”

What is heart valve disease?

Heart valve disease occurs if one or more of your heart valves don't work well. The heart has four valves: the tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral, and aortic valves.

These valves have tissue flaps that open and close with each heartbeat. The flaps make sure blood flows in the right direction through your heart's four chambers and to the rest of your body.

Birth defects, age-related changes, infections, or other conditions can cause one or more of your heart valves to not open fully or to let blood leak back into the heart chambers. This can make your heart work harder and affect its ability to pump blood, says. Dr. Hummel.

Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath: This can occur during daily activities or when lying down flat in bed. Some people experiencing this symptom during sleep may need to prop themselves up on pillows to facilitate breathing.

What are the symptoms of heart valve disease?

Although some people with valve disease may not experience any signs of the disease for years, the condition can eventually worsen. The main sign of heart valve disease is an unusual heartbeat sound known as a heart murmur.

According to Dr. Hummel, many people have heart murmurs without having heart valve disease or any other heart problems. “Many people who have heart valve disease don't have any symptoms until they're middle-aged or older,” he says.

Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Shortness of breath, especially when you exert yourself or when you're lying down
  • Swelling in your ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, and veins in the neck
  • Chest pain that may happen only when you exert yourself. You also may notice a fluttering, racing, or irregular heartbeat
  • Some types of heart valve disease, such as aortic or mitral valve stenosis, can cause dizziness or fainting

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

How is heart valve disease diagnosed?

Your heart doctor can tell if you have valve disease by talking to you about your symptoms, performing a physical exam, and giving you other tests that may include:

How is heart valve disease treated?

Some heart valve problems are minor and don’t require treatment, according to Dr. Hummel.

“Yearly check-ups with your health care provider or cardiologist, living a healthy lifestyle, and medication may be all that’s needed,” he says. “But in some cases, you may need surgery to repair a damaged valve or have it replaced with a new one. Your heart specialist can help you understand your best option.”

At Shipley Cardiothoracic Center, the board-certified cardiothoracic surgeons are award-winning experts at performing minimally invasive valve surgery to improve the quality of life of their patients. Their vast experience includes robotic heart surgery, transcatheter valve therapies, and hybrid surgical programs.

The Center’s dedicated cardiac anesthesiologists and surgical teams consistently rank in the top tier of cardiovascular treatment, education, and research programs in the United States.

Virtual Shipley Lecture Series: Learn more about your cardiovascular health

Shipley Cardiothoracic Center’s expert surgeons help shape the future of heart and lung surgery by spearheading research, advancing new surgical techniques, and providing outstanding training.

That’s why Lee Health’s Healthy Life Centers are proud to offer the Virtual Shipley Lecture Series.

Simply RSVP for an event here, and you can listen along online from the comfort of your own home as Shipley surgeons discuss trends, treatments, and technology to improve your cardiovascular health.

February and March lectures include:

Tuesday, Feb. 9

Management of Atrial Fibrillation

2-3 p.m. RSVP

Dr. Paul DiGiorgi, cardiothoracic surgeon

Tuesday, Feb. 23

Endovascular Options for Aortic Disease: TEVAR

3-4 p.m RSVP

Dr. Brian Hummel, cardiothoracic surgeon

Monday, March 8

Advances and Treatments of Atrial Fibrillation

2-3 p.m. RSVP

Dr. Paul DiGiorgi, cardiothoracic surgeon

Dr. Michael DeFrain, cardiothoracic surgeon

Tuesday, March 9

Aortic Aneurysm/Dissection: Recognizing the Difference

2-3 p.m. RSVP

Dr. Randall Buss, cardiothoracic surgeon

Tuesday, March 23

Robotic Lung Surgery

2-3 p.m RSVP

Dr. Michael DeFrain, cardiothoracic surgeon