What is heart valve disease?

Heart valve disease is a common, serious, but treatable condition that affects 1.5 million over 65s in the UK. Despite its prevalence, if it is diagnosed and treated early, people can return to a good quality of life and enjoy the Power of Positive Ageing.

Heart Valve Disease

Heart valve disease is a condition caused by either wear or disease of the heart valve(s), affecting the flow of blood through the heart.

When diseased or defective, heart valves may not open or close properly and can interfere with the flow of blood. The most common valve problems involve the mitral and aortic valves, which are located on the left side of the heart.

Many people mistakenly believe the symptoms of breathlessness, fatigue and chest pains are due to ageing. By not being aware and seeking a diagnosis, they are putting their health at risk when heart valve replacement can restore them to good health.

Causes and Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease

Heart valve disease is most often due to age-related degeneration or hardening (calcification) of the valve, leading to progressive narrowing or leakage – changes that affect valve function and impair normal blood flow through the heart.

The main symptoms of heart valve disease are:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Fainting and difficulty exercising
  • Chest pain or palpitations

The primary types of heart valve disease are:

  • Valve Stenosis: As a result of certain medical conditions or anatomical abnormalities, a valve can be exceptionally narrow (therefore having a “stenosis”), which can limit the blood flow through the valve. This may result in a “back-up” of blood behind the valve, causing the heart to pump inefficiently
  • Valve Regurgitation: When a valve’s leaflets fail to close completely, the valve itself can become “leaky,” allowing blood to backwash down through the valve (called “regurgitation”). In addition, the valve may not ever completely move the volume of blood to the next appropriate chamber

Heart Valve Disease Diagnosis

A heart “murmur” or “click-murmur” heard through a physician’s stethoscope is usually the first indication of a valve disorder. There are further tests that aid in detecting the origin of heart valve problems and determining the best treatment approach, such as electrocardiography

Heart Valve Disease Treatment Approaches

Heart valve disease is a serious condition, but it is treatable. There are a number of potential treatments:

  • Valve Repair:  The valve can be repaired by surgery and the patient’s original tissue maintained
  • Aortic Valve Replacement (AVR): Surgery to replace the aortic valve. In recent years, minimally invasive techniques have been introduced
  • Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVI): Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) offers a less invasive treatment option than surgical replacement and provides a way of implanting valves in patients who previously would have been considered too risky for surgical valve replacement

If you or anyone you know has experienced signs of breathlessness, dizziness or fatigue, call your GP and ask for a stethoscope check – the first but most important step to timely diagnosis and treatment of the condition. 

Patient Story: Stacey

In 2019, at just 33 years old, Stacey Langridge was experiencing severe shortness of breath and swollen ankles. When referred to Weston General Hospital, it was found that she had aortic stenosis, mitral valve disease and endocarditis and needed emergency treatment. Over the next four weeks in hospital she had her valves repaired and replaced and antibiotics to treat her endocarditis. Now, she is making a good recovery, adjusting to life after treatment, and looking forward to the future with her family.

Read Stacey’s story in full…