Heart valve disease occurs when one or more heart valves aren’t working as well as expected. Heart valve disease may be an inherited or acquired condition.
Heart valve disease occurs when one or more valves in the heart aren’t working well or are damaged. It can be due to a number of conditions. Some causes of heart valve disease are genetic, while others are acquired over someone’s life.
If you have risk factors for heart valve disease, you may be wondering how you can detect and prevent this condition. While not all causes of heart valve disease are preventable, it’s important to be aware of signs and promote your overall heart health.
Heart valve disease is when one or more of the four valves of the heart has a problem that affects its ability to function properly.
Problems with the heart’s valves can include:
- leaking (also called regurgitation)
- being too narrow (stenosis)
- not having a proper opening (atresia)
- older age
- family history of genetic conditions that affect the heart valves or cause early heart disease
- medical devices like pacemakers and defibrillators
- lifestyle habits like smoking, unhealthy eating patterns, and a lack of physical activity
- health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or lupus
- radiation treatment
- being male
Some people are born with congenital forms of heart valve disease. Others acquire heart valve disease later in their lives.
There is no one set age for someone to develop heart valve disease, but the risk for it increases as you age.
A study in 2019 found that 13.3% of people ages 75 and older had heart valve disease, while only 0.7% of people ages 18–44 had it.
As experts continue to learn more about the genetic mutations behind heart valve disease, detecting genetic risk should become easier and more accurate.
You can discuss with your doctor and healthcare team about possible genetic testing and risk factors, that may indicate your likelihood of developing heart valve disease.
The life expectancy for someone with heart valve disease depends on several factors, such as:
- your age when the heart valve disease is diagnosed
- your overall health
- the exact heart valve disease you have and how severe it is
Life expectancy can affect treatment decisions. For example, if heart valve replacement surgery is necessary, biological valves made from pig, cow, or human tissue tend to wear out after 10–15 years. A mechanical valve that won’t wear out may be more appropriate for someone with a longer life expectancy to minimize the need for follow-up surgeries.
Not all heart valve issues can be prevented. But there are some things you can do to reduce your risks of acquiring heart valve disease.
- eating a heart healthy diet
- being physically active whenever you’re able
- maintaining a healthy weight for your body
- not smoking
- managing stress, such as by meditation, journaling, or physical activity
- practicing good dental and skin hygiene to prevent infections
- properly taking medications, such as:
- taking a full course of antibiotics for strep throat
- taking prescriptions for conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes
Inherited heart diseases are also sometimes known as inherited cardiac conditions or genetic cardiac conditions.
Some examples of heart diseases that can be inherited include:
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: This condition causes heart muscles to thicken.
- Dilated cardiomyopathy: In some kinds of this condition, the left ventricle becomes weaker, stretched out, or dilated.
- Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy: This occurs when fat and extra fibrous material replace the right ventricle’s muscle.
- Restrictive cardiomyopathy: In this heart condition, the ventricles stiffen and can’t relax to fill up with blood.
- Long and short QT syndrome: This condition impacts the electrical activity and heartbeat rhythm.
- Brugada syndrome: When this occurs, it causes a disruption of the heart rhythm in the ventricles.
- Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia: This condition involves an unusually fast heart rhythm.
Heart valve disease occurs when one or more of your heart valves are not working as expected. You may be born with a congenital heart valve disease or develop a heart valve disease later in life.
If you have a family history of heart valve disease or risk factors for it, you can discuss these with your doctor. They can help you manage any risk factors.
On your own, you can take care of your heart by eating heart healthy foods, exercising, and finding ways to manage stress.