Heart disease is a blanket term that includes a variety of conditions and illnesses. Heart valve disease is one such condition that poses a significant threat, a threat that many people are unaware of.
A 2016 public opinion survey of more than 2,000 adults sponsored by the nonprofit Alliance for Aging Research found that public awareness of heart valve disease, or HVD, is very low. Fewer than one in four survey respondents knew much about HVD at all. That’s despite the fact that the AAR reports that as many as 11 million people in the United States have HVD.
Raising awareness of HVD, including its symptoms, can help people protect themselves from this potentially deadly disease.
What is HVD?
HVD occurs when the heart’s valves, which maintain one-way blood flow through the heart, are not functioning properly. The heart has four valves that, when working properly, ensure the free flow of blood in a forward direction, preventing backward leakage. This process is essential to the successful and continuous flow of blood to the heart, lungs and body.
What causes HVD?
HVD sometimes develops before birth, meaning some instances are congenital birth defects. In some such instances, people may be born with valves that are the wrong size. Some valve diseases are acquired during one’s lifetime. Acquired valve diseases may be linked to conditions such as rheumatic fever or endocarditis, which occurs when germs enter the bloodstream and attack the heart valves.
What are the symptoms of HVD?
The online medical resource Medicine.net notes that even people with no symptoms at all may have severe valve disease that requires prompt treatment. As a result, it’s imperative that people prioritize annual health checkups. Annual physicals can be a person’s best defense against various conditions, including HVD.
People who experience any of the following symptoms, which should be reported to a physician immediately, may be suffering from HVD.
• 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.
• Weakness of dizziness: Some people with HVD pass out as a result of their dizziness. Some may be too weak to perform daily activities.
• Chest discomfort: A pressure of weight in the chest when being active or going out in cold air may be indicative of HVD.
• Palpitations: This symptom can feel like a rapid heart rhythm, irregular heartbeat, skipped beats, or a flip-flop feeling in the chest.
• Edema: This swelling of the ankles, feet or abdomen can, when affecting the belly, make people feel bloated.
• Rapid weight gain: Some people with HVD gain two to three pounds in a single day.
Heart valve disease poses a serious threat. More information about HVD is available at www.valvediseaseday.org.