Hidden heart disease the next cardiac epidemic

When you think of heart disease, do you automatically think of heart attacks?

Well, there’s more to your heart and a new study has revealed two in three Australians are unaware of heart valve disease, which has been described as the ‘next cardiac epidemic’.

So what is heart valve disease? At its simplest level, it means your heart valve or valves don’t open or close properly.

Heart valves control blood flow to, from and within the heart, and heart valve disease can impair that vital function.

If one or more of your heart valves is damaged or diseased, your heart may need to work harder to pump blood. This can disrupt blood flow to your body. 

According to the heart health charity hearts4heart more than half a million Australians have heart valve disease, yet a study commissioned by the charity found only one-third of Australians are aware of the disease and its impacts.

Symptoms to look out for

Unfortunately, many symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations and dizziness, can often be dismissed as problems common to old age.

Adding to the problem is many people show no symptoms and the disease can go undetected for many years.

“If left undetected and untreated, heart valve disease can damage the heart’s valves and lead to heart failure, stroke, and an irregular heartbeat,” said hearts4heart CEO and founder Tanya Hall. 

“These complications can have a significant toll on people’s quality of life and can also result in avoidable deaths,”

“However, if heart valve disease is diagnosed early, it is treatable, and people with the disease can live a full and happy life, which is why during Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week [26 February to 3 March], we are amplifying our efforts to ensure all Australians have the condition front of mind.” 

Heart valve disease can be detected by a simple stethoscope check to identify a heart murmur, which can indicate valve disease. For a formal diagnosis you may have to undergo a scan or X-ray. 

Undetected, undiagnosed, untreated

“In too many cases the illness is undetected, undiagnosed, untreated, or treated too late. If left untreated, certain patients with aortic valve disease, with symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain, can die within 2 years of diagnosis, a prognosis that is worse than most cancers,” said Professor Dion Stub of Monash University and Interventional Cardiologist, Alfred Health. 

“If left untreated, certain patients with aortic valve disease, with symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain, can die within 2 years of diagnosis, a prognosis that is worse than most cancers.”

As part of Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week 2024, hearts4heart is supporting heart screening events in New South Wales and Victoria. The screening events will be held at selected hospitals until 7 March. Find out a hospital near you here.

Although heart valve problems can potentially be severe and even life-threatening, these conditions can also be treatable. 

As well as the symptoms described above, other symptoms to look out for include chest pain, irregular heartbeat and swollen ankles and feet.

Have you suffered from heart valve disease? How was it diagnosed? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Link between walnuts and your heart health revealed

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