Chief Executive, Croí, the Heart & Stroke Charity and Executive Director, Global Heart Hub
Heart valve disease is a serious cardiovascular condition which can be fatal if left untreated, but it has received little attention compared to other heart conditions.
Heart valve disease, which is largely a condition of ageing, can be a serious cardiovascular condition. It could be fatal if left untreated. As the population is ageing, heart valve disease is on the rise with the number of people affected (one in eight over the age of 75) expected to double by 2040 and triple by 2060.
Unfortunately, we know from research that most people over 65 years in Ireland are not having regular stethoscope checks when they attend their GP.
Tackling barriers in care
The COVID-19 pandemic has compromised care for many people with heart valve disease, adding to existing barriers in early diagnosis and timely care. Unlike with some other cardiovascular conditions, there are effective treatment options for heart valve disease that can halt disease progression, improve quality of life and reduce mortality.
In an effort to raise awareness and improve outcomes for people living with heart valve disease, Croí is leading ‘Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week’ in Ireland and recently contributed to an EU report, Heart Valve Disease: Working Together to Create a Better Patient Journey, to help raise stakeholder awareness of heart valve disease across Europe.
As we are living longer, heart valve disease is increasingly an issue that we may need to face, particularly as we progress to the ‘third age’ (65 years and older). Heart valve disease has been described as the next cardiac epidemic. Sometimes we dismiss symptoms like breathlessness, feeling easily fatigued or not being able to do things as easily as we used to, as just getting older. However, the symptoms of heart valve disease can be masked by the natural signs of ageing.
Recognising signs and symptoms
Too often, heart valve problems go unnoticed and undiagnosed as we don’t realise that there may be something more going on. I would encourage everyone over the age of 65 to ask their doctor, at least once a year, to listen to their heart with a stethoscope.
Unfortunately, we know from research that most people over 65 years in Ireland are not having regular stethoscope checks when they attend their GP. To detect heart valve disease, this needs to change. Early detection and timely treatment are potentially not only lifesaving but also the key to healthier, active ageing and a longer life.
Early detection and diagnosis require both patient and doctor to be proactive, in recognising symptoms and pursuing timely treatment. New innovations in treatment are adding quality to many people in their golden years.