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Are you at risk of heart valve disease?

From 26 February to 3 March, the spotlight falls on a little-known disease that can pose a big risk to your health.

  • News
  • Read Time: 4 mins

Described as “the next cardiac epidemic”, heart valve disease (HVD) affects 250,000 Australians but few of us have ever heard of it. In fact, we could be living with HVD without knowing it. 

A national survey sponsored by hearts4heart revealed that over a quarter (28%) of all Australians, about 5.6 million people, have never heard of HVD, its impact, and it challenges. 

HVD Awareness Week, from 26 February to 3 March, is designed to:

  • Improve recognition of the risks and symptoms specific to HVD.
  • Encourage people at risk of HVD, including those aged 65 and older, and anyone experiencing symptoms, to speak with their GP about getting their heart checked.
  • Increase early detection and treatment.
  • Save lives.

What is HVD?

It is a health condition where the heart valves, which control blood flow, don’t work properly.

This can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, and swelling in the legs. Essentially, HVD makes it harder for your heart to pump blood effectively.

When left untreated, HVD can harm your heart’s valves, potentially causing heart failure, strokes, and irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia).

However, timely detection and appropriate treatment can extend life expectancy and enhance the quality of life for those facing HVD.

Who is at risk?

People of all ages can develop HVD, but the following factors increase risk: 

  • Being over 65

  • Family history of heart valve disease

  • Pre-existing heart conditions

  • High blood pressure

  • Have had open heart surgery

  • Being a smoker

  • Have had certain infections, such as rheumatic fever or endocarditis.

The symptoms

  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity

  • Fatigue

  • Palpitations (feeling your heart racing or pounding)

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Swelling of the ankles, feet, abdomen, or chest

  • Coughing or wheezing

  • Dizziness

  • Fainting or near-fainting

  • A heart murmur (abnormal sound heard when listening to the heart with a stethoscope)

  • Unexplained weight loss.

Concerningly, symptoms are often dismissed as a “normal part of ageing”, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment. Some people with the disease experience no symptoms at all.

If you’re over 65, or experiencing any of the above, speak to your GP and get your heart checked.

Hearts4heart resources and information is available here


John Austin

John Austin

Policy and Communications Officer

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