Listen to Your Heart on National Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day

This February 22 is National Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day. As many as 11 million Americans have heart valve disease (HVD), which involves damage to one or more of the heart’s valves. While some types are not serious, others can lead to major complications—including death. Fortunately, valve disease can usually be successfully treated with valve repair and replacement in patients of all ages

HVD can be there at birth or develop from damage later in life from calcification, other cardiovascular diseases, and conditions, or infection. Age is the greatest risk factor with 1 in 10 people ages 75 and older estimated to have moderate to severe HVD.

While heart valve disease is most prevalent in older adults, we know that African Americans tend to be younger than whites with the onset of heart valves disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. High blood pressure increases the likelihood of heart failure, a primary risk factor for heart valve disease, and African Americans develop heart failure before the age of 50 at 20 times the rate of whites.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that heart valve disease is being detected early enough for effective treatments in African American patients. An August 2017 American Journal of Cardiology study found that the odds of being referred to a cardiothoracic surgeon for treatment of heart valve disease were 54% lower in African American patients compared with whites. Additionally, research shows that African Americans with heart valve disease are 33% more likely to refuse treatment than white patients.

Yet, when they were treated, both groups had