By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Jen Hyde is traveling from her home in Brooklyn to Manhattan on Thursday to ring the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange. The occasion: National Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day.
Seven years ago, Hyde learned she had heart valve disease and would need to have a valve replaced. It was the second time the American Heart Association ambassador needed surgery. The first procedure, an open-heart surgery, took place when she was a toddler to correct a congenital heart defect.
Sue Peschin, president and chief executive for the Alliance for Aging Research, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, said a survey it conducted found that more than three in four Americans reported knowing little to nothing about heart valve disease.
By clanging the infamous Wall Street bell, Hyde, now 32, hopes to increase awareness about a relatively unknown heart problem that affects more than 5 million U.S. adults and kills an estimated 25,700 Americans each year.
Heart valve disease occurs when one or more of the heart’s four valves no longer opens or closes correctly. As people get older, their risk of developing heart valve disease increases; research suggests it affects about one in eight people age 75 and older.
Congenital heart defects like Hyde’s also increase the risk of developing heart valve disease. Other risk factors include a prior diagnosis of rheumatic fever or infective endocarditis and experiencing a heart attack, heart failure or arrhythmia.
Common symptoms of heart valve disease include chest pain or palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness or inability to maintain usual activity level, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness, and swelling in the ankles, feet or abdomen. Because these symptoms may develop slowly over time, they can easily be mistaken for other conditions, experts say.
Dr. Vuyisile T. Nkomo, a cardiologist specializing in heart valve disease, said the condition is a “major public health problem” because it often goes undetected.
“You can have very severe forms of valve disease and not really have any major symptoms,” said Nkomo, director of Mayo Clinic’s Valvular Heart Disease Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Nkomo said anyone who has previously been diagnosed with a heart murmur, mitral valve prolapse or other mild form of heart valve disease should routinely see their health care provider for a heart exam, even if they aren’t experiencing symptoms.
Patients who are experiencing symptoms, he said, should talk to their doctors about a potential heart valve problem.
“Ask what may be causing the [symptoms] and find out how often [you] should follow up and what symptoms to watch for,” he said. “[Heart valve disease] symptoms are often [mistaken] for other conditions, such as lung disease.”
A heart murmur can also be a sign of underlying valve disease, Nkomo said.
“It’s not uncommon to hear from patients, ‘I knew I had a murmur but didn’t realize it was a valve problem,’ ” he said.
Heart valve disease can often be successfully treated through a heart valve repair or replacement. Patients are more likely to have a good outcome when the disease is found early, Nkomo said.
Hyde is now expecting her first child. Throughout her pregnancy she has seen a number of specialists, including a cardiologist specializing in congenital heart defects. She said being an AHA ambassador has allowed her to connect with fellow survivors and learn more about her condition.
“This is one form of heart disease and there are all sorts of people out there to support you if you reach out to them,” she said.
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