Heart Valve Disease: What We Don’t Know is Killing Us

When most people think of heart disease they think of heart attacks or heart failure. Many Americans have never heard of heart valve disease. In fact, a 2016 survey found that three out of four Americans knew little to nothing about it.

So, what is heart valve disease and why should you care?

The heart has four valves, and their job is to keep blood flowing in and out of the heart. Heart valve disease develops when one or more of these valves are damaged and can lead to major complications, including death. At least five million Americans have heart valve disease and an estimated 25,000 people die from it each year.

Heart valve disease can affect the very young. Babies can be born with heart valve problems that sooner or later develop into heart valve disease. But heart valve disease more commonly occurs in adults as a result of wear and tear on the heart, including gradual damage that happens as we age. In fact, one in eight people age 75 and older have moderate to severe heart valve disease.

This risk of wear and tear on the heart increases with diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart failure; and if you are overweight or obese. Risk also increases if you’ve had a previous heart condition or an infection that impacted the heart, or treatment for cancer in the chest.

Many of the risk factors for heart valve disease are higher in African Americans than in whites. African Americans have the highest prevalence of high blood pressure in the world, and compared to whites, African Americans develop