Heart valve disease has been described as the “forgotten epidemic”1; and with good reason. The disease affects more than one million people aged over 65, and this figure is set to soar as this aging population could double to 19 million by 2050.  Yet, awareness of this common, severe and ultimately curable condition remains dangerously low.

Heart valve disease is a condition caused by either wear, disease or damage to the heart’s valves, affecting the flow of blood through the heart and causing a range of symptoms.

Heart valve disease affects more than one million people aged over 65.

Heart Valve Voice was established in 2013 with a vision to transform the diagnosis, referral and treatment of this life threatening disease. Yet, this task is not without challenges, as Mr. Chris Young, its Chair and Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital, London, explains: “Many people think that the symptoms of breathlessness, chest pains, dizziness and fainting are signs of ageing, so they don’t seek help. This is one of many reasons why we treat half as many people as France. We could do much better.”

A recent global population based study2 gives us clear evidence that the prevalence of undiagnosed and known heart valve disease in older people is a public health concern, with the number of patients set to double by 2046.

A fourfold increase in less invasive procedures such as Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) is to be expected. Due to the aging population, TAVI is a preferred method for patients at increased risk as it enables heart valve replacements with a minimally invasive procedure, reducing both operation and recovery times.

The growing number of patients demonstrates the important role that charities like Heart Valve Voice can play in ensuring a clear and effective treatment pathway across the NHS. Evidence suggests the existence of gaps in treatment of heart valve disease across the UK displaying a varied level in quality of care.

Awareness of Heart valve disease is still worryingly low.

CEO Heart Valve Voice Will Woan highlights: “We know that advanced imaging technologies have dramatically improved our ability to detect and treat heart valve disease at an early stage. Having access to these types of technology also allows us to do less invasive procedures and improve patient outcomes.”

Chris Young, Woan and their supporters are developing their new Vision Report, which offers practical solutions to the challenges. They plan to present the report to parliament in November to raise awareness of the disease and gain support. “We believe that there is a political ambition to support the needs of our ageing population,” Young comments. “With partnership, we can go a long way to ensuring that patients receive the best treatment at the right time, to improve their quality of life.”

 

1 Br J Cardiol 2011;18:118

2 The OxVALVE Population Cohort Study (European Heart Journal June 2016)