When was the last time your GP checked your heart with a stethoscope?
Cardiology Heart Valve Voice, a charity raising awareness of heart valve disease, says a stethoscope check is often the first step in detecting a common disease that affects over one million people over the age of 65 in the UK.
Heart valve disease is caused by either the wear, disease or damage of one or more of the heart’s valves, affecting the flow of blood through the heart.
The most common forms of heart valve disease impact the aortic and mitral valves. Heart valve disease can cause the heart valves to either leak, meaning the valve is failing to close properly and allowing blood to flow back through, known as regurgitation, or become narrowed or calcified, in turn limiting the amount of blood allowed to flow through, known as stenosis. The symptoms associated with heart valve disease include breathlessness, tiredness, tight chest and dizziness.
Low awareness of heart valve disease
Awareness of this disease is very low in the UK, despite its prevalence, with an average of 94% of people over the age of 60 being unaware of what aortic stenosis (the most common form of heart valve disease) is. One of the reasons for the lack of awareness around heart valve disease is that the symptoms are often thought to be merely a result of getting older and are therefore ignored or put up with.
94% of people over the age of 60 are unaware of what aortic stenosis is
Heart Valve Voice is hoping to change that by making people aware that these symptoms aren’t necessarily just signs of ageing and that they should be mentioned to a primary care professional and, in turn, that primary care professional should listen to their heart.
On average, GPs use their stethoscope on less than two fifths of patients presenting with symptoms of heart valve disease, despite it being one of the first key protocols in detecting the disease, according to research from Heart Valve Voice. “GPs do an excellent job at assessing and diagnosing a wide range of diseases, including heart valve disease.
However, in some instances there may be a lack of awareness, and with the growing number of cases in the UK, more needs to be done to ensure there is a systematic plan in place to tackle this disease at all levels,” said Yassir Javaid, GP and Cardiovascular and Diabetes Clinical Lead at Nene CCG. “This is essentially what Heart Valve Voice is trying to facilitate and their work will be crucial to enable clinicians to effectively support patients.”
Once a patient has been diagnosed with heart valve disease, they face a number of life changing treatment options. While valve treatment is most commonly performed through surgery, great progress has been made recently on less invasive procedures allowing for less trauma and a much quicker recovery.
With procedures such as minimally invasive surgery and Transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI), patients who were once unable to receive surgery due to their age or co-morbidities, are now more likely to get the valve disease treatment they need.
It is being found that once a patient with heart valve disease is diagnosed early enough and receives treatment, their lives transform significantly. New European guidelines released last month will enable healthcare professionals to treat more people, but awareness is still low.
If heart valve disease is caught early enough then more severe complications can be avoided
Pat Khan, a Heart Valve Voice patient ambassador says, “I got my life back after my valve replacement and even participated in the Heart Valve Voice cycle ride from London to Paris this past May. I’d put my symptoms down to old age, which was a terrible mistake and an eagle-eyed GP listed to my heart and saved my life”.
“Given the significant challenges that the NHS is facing with an ageing population and the expected increase in cases of valve disease, we believe that it is necessary that patients receive their diagnosis and subsequent treatment as swiftly as possible.
If heart valve disease is caught early enough then more severe complications, such as heart attack or heart failure, can be avoided,” said Wil Woan, Heart Valve Voice CEO. “Last year, we published a comprehensive report that has been put forward to parliament containing our key recommendations that we believe are crucial if we are to improve the diagnosis, treatment and care of heart valve disease.”
At Heart Valve Voice’s we say, ‘The more we listen, the more lives we save’ - so make sure you ask your GP to listen to your heart the next time you see them.
Edwards Lifesciences is the global leader in patient-focused medical innovations for structural heart disease, as well as critical care and surgical monitoring.