Your heart has four valves that open and close with each heartbeat to control the flow of blood. Heart valve diseases are conditions that affect one or more heart valves.
Each heart valve condition has its own causes and risk factors. Some heart valve conditions are preventable, while others are not. Some risk factors are easier to manage than others. Taking steps to manage modifiable risk factors may lower your chances of developing a preventable heart valve condition.
Check out the infographic below to find factors that raise your risk of a heart valve condition:
Many heart valve conditions are more common in older adults. As you age, your heart valves may degenerate or deteriorate. In some cases, calcium deposits may accumulate on your valves. This can stop your valves from working properly.
To protect your heart, it’s important to practice heart-healthy habits. This may help prevent age-related degeneration or calcification.
Some heart valve conditions run in families. You’re more likely to have one of those conditions if another member of your family has it too.
Congenital heart valve conditions are present at birth. In some cases, congenital defects are caused by inheritable genetic mutations that may pass from parents to children or malformation of the heart in utero. A family history of a congenital defect raises your risk of having the defect yourself and passing it on to your children.
Acquired heart valve conditions develop in childhood or adulthood. Some types of acquired heart valve conditions may have a genetic component. Mitral valve prolapse and bicuspid aortic valve problems tend to run in families.
A family history of early coronary heart disease may also raise your risk of an acquired heart valve condition.
Talk with your doctor about your family medical history. If heart disease runs in your family, your doctor can help you understand and manage your risk of developing it. If they suspect you have a genetic mutation that causes heart valve defects, your doctor may refer you to a genetic counselor for genetic testing and counseling.
Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that raise your risk of heart disease, including certain heart valve conditions. These risk factors include:
- high blood sugar
- high blood pressure
- high levels of triglycerides in your blood
- low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol in your blood
Practicing healthy habits can help prevent and manage metabolic syndrome. If you have one or more of these risk factors, your doctor may also prescribe medication or other treatments.
Certain health conditions can cause problems with your heart valves. These include:
- infective endocarditis, or inflammation in your heart caused by an infection
- rheumatic fever, which can develop from untreated strep throat or scarlet fever
- injury to your heart
You’re also more likely to develop a heart valve condition if you have a history of:
- other heart conditions
- chronic kidney disease
- autoimmune conditions, such as lupus
- Marfan syndrome
- carcinoid tumor
- elevated lipoprotein(a)
Talk with your doctor about your medical history to learn how it may affect your risk of a heart valve condition or other health concerns. They can help you understand and manage your risk factors.
If your heart beats too slowly, too fast, or irregularly, your doctor may implant a pacemaker or internal defibrillator. These medical devices can help regulate your heartbeat. However, there is also a chance the device will damage a heart valve.
Radiation therapy to your chest also raises your risk of a heart valve condition. This therapy treats certain types of cancers. It can cause heart valves to thicken or narrow.
If your doctor recommends one of these treatments or you’ve already received one of these treatments, ask them about potential side effects. They can help you learn how to manage the risk of side effects and complications.
Some lifestyle habits can raise your risk of heart disease, including certain heart valve conditions. These habits include:
- not eating a well-balanced diet
- not getting enough exercise
- heavy alcohol use, which can weaken the heart muscle
Poor skin or dental hygiene may also raise your risk of a heart valve condition by increasing your risk of infections. An infection can cause endocarditis, or inflammation in your heart. This can damage your heart valves.
Intravenous drug use also raises your risk of endocarditis.
To help protect your heart and promote good overall health:
- Eat a heart-healthy diet.
- Get regular physical activity.
- Take steps to manage your weight.
- Take steps to reduce stress.
- Practice good skin and dental hygiene.
- Avoid smoking and intravenous drug use.
If you smoke or use intravenous drugs, your doctor can recommend resources to help you quit. They may refer you to a substance use disorder counselor or recommend other treatments.
A heart valve condition can interfere with the flow of blood through your heart, raising your risk of heart failure and other life threatening complications.
Some heart valve conditions are preventable. Managing your risk factors may help prevent a heart valve condition. This includes practicing healthy lifestyle habits, like eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and taking steps to manage your weight and stress. It’s also important to avoid smoking or using intravenous drugs.
If you have a heart valve condition, getting a diagnosis and treatment is important for relieving symptoms and reducing your risk of complications. Talk with your doctor to learn more.