Heart valve disease has been described as the next cardiac epidemic. Due to an aging population it is increasing rapidly. It currently affects one in eight people over the age of 75, but this number is estimated to double by the year 2040 and triple by 2063.
As life expectancy increases, people make crucial contributions to society and the economy for longer. Untreated valve disease thus represents a barrier to active aging. On the other hand, early detection and timely treatment result in increased longevity and quality of life.
Heart valve disease is caused by aging, disease, or damage to one or more heart valves. Being linked to aging, it can also be present from birth (congenital heart disease). It is a common condition, which can be serious but is treatable. Any malfunction or abnormality of one or more of the heart’s four valves, will affect the flow of blood through the heart.
Symptoms of heart valve disease can include tightness or pain of the chest, shortness of breath, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, fainting, and reduced physical activity. However, these are common symptoms in people over the age of 65 and are often overlooked.
The heart has four heart valves that controls the flow of blood in the heart. When the heart valves do not work properly, two types of disease can develop: aortic stenosis (narrowing of the aortic valve) or mitral regurgitation (degeneration of the mitral valve).
In the case of untreated, severe and symptomatic aortic stenosis for example, the mortality rate varies between 25% and 50% per year. These figures can easily be reversed through proper treatment, which involves heart valve replacement, through conventional surgery or percutaneous treatment.
The campaign by the European Society of Cardiology, which took place last September, focused on educating the population on the symptoms to look out for, which must not go unnoticed and, in this way, the number of people treated in a timely manner will increase. Thus, more serious outcomes, such as death, can be avoided. More than half the number of symptomatic patients with severe aortic stenosis will die within two years of developing symptoms if untreated.
However, some patients with valve heart disease develop no symptoms at all for many years or might never develop symptoms, even if the disease is severe, which can make diagnosis difficult. Regular medical evaluation, through auscultation of the heart with a stethoscope, is therefore crucial so that the patient can be immediately referred to a cardiologist, who will be able to carry out complementary tests to confirm the initial diagnosis.
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