Listen to Your Heart

Jim standing with golf club

Jim is an active and healthy 70-year-old. He always hit the gym and avoided fast food. For years, he walked 18 holes of golf with no problems. A couple years ago, he started feeling tired – really tired. While his naps got longer and more frequent, he never felt refreshed. That single symptom ended up tipping off his doctor. Jim was diagnosed with Heart Valve Disease (HVD). One of his valves needed to be repaired, another replaced.

He never suspected a heart valve issue. As he says, “It’s not like an ambulance was sitting outside the house waiting to take me to see a cardiologist.” He didn’t realize that fatigue was one of the symptoms of the disease.

Three out of four Americans know little to nothing about HVD. Its symptoms are often dismissed as a normal part of aging, which can be highly dangerous. More than 11 and a half million people have valve disease, and around 25,000 people die from it each year.

The most common risk factors for valve disease:

  1. Age – Since wear and tear are  the most common causes, those 65+ are at increased risk.
  2. Congenital Abnomalities – some people are born with defective valves.
  3. Infection – Certain infections, such as staph or strep can cause bacterial endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the inner layer of the heart or the heart valves .
  4. Family History – Having relatives who have had valve disease might increase your risk.
  5. Race – Black Americans experience high blood pressure and heart failure at a higher rate than their white counterparts. For Black people, valve disease onset is at a younger age and more likely to go undetected due to structural racism and inequities.
  6. Other Conditions –Chronic kidney disease, lupus and Marfan syndrome can increase risk.

For Jim, it was fatigue, but here’s a list of five other symptoms (no matter how subtle) of concern:
1. Dizziness or lightheadedness

2. Chest pains, heart flutter or irregular heartbeat

3. Feeling winded or short of breath

4. Swelling ankles or feet

5. Just not feeling like yourself

Several of the causes of valve disease can’t be prevented. But, living a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise  a day can prevent conditions like high blood pressure and other conditions that can lead to heart valve disease.

Jim had surgery to repair his valves. However, often your doctor will monitor your condition, prescribe medication, or suggest a minimally invasive catheter based treatment. Surgery isn’t always required.

The Roper St. Francis Healthcare heart and vasular team includes cardiologists, surgeons, nurses, navigators and technologists who work closely together to deliver highly individualized care. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, talk with your -doctor right away. If you have a known heart valve issue and would like to learn more about the Roper St. Francis Heart Valve Clinic, call (843) 720-8448.