By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
On the nation’s first Heart Valve Day this Feb. 22, Dennis Dobkowski, who needed surgery to fix damage to his valves, will share his experience with Congressional representatives in hopes of getting attention for this under-recognized problem.
Awareness is low for heart valve disease, which is a condition in which one or more of the heart’s valves are damaged, which then disrupts blood flow when valves do not open or close properly. While some types of the condition are not symptomatic, others, such as aortic stenosis, can be deadly if left untreated.
An estimated 25,000 people die from the condition each year even though faulty heart valves can be repaired or replaced.
A recent survey from the Alliance for Aging Research of more than 2,000 adults across the United States found that 40 percent of respondents knew nothing about heart valve disease, and only about one in four knew somewhat or a great deal about the disease.
A follow-up survey with more than 400 people with heart valve disease showed six in 10 respondents were diagnosed only because they went to see a health care professional for a regular check-up or some other issue.
Raising awareness about heart valve disease has become a passion for Dennis Dobkowski because some people have no symptoms. Many others fail to recognize common ones, including unusual fatigue, chest pain or palpitations, shortness of breath, or swollen ankles, feet or abdomen.
“Many people mistake many of the symptoms for age- or weight-related issues and don’t get them checked out, but it’s important to talk with your doctor and make sure it isn’t something more serious,” he said.
Dobkowski will head to Washington, D.C., to advocate for additional education and resources. His wife, Ann, who will also attend, used her professional nursing skills to navigate his recovery as he wrestled with depression and other unanticipated side effects after his surgery two years ago.
“At times it felt like I’d never get over the hump, but I’m feeling really good now,” said Dobkowski, who now walks three miles a day and can play 18 holes of golf without getting exhausted. “I have a lot more stamina and a lot more energy.”
Risk factors for heart valve disease include age, a history of rheumatic fever or infective endocarditis, heart attack, heart failure, or previous heart valve conditions from birth. The condition becomes more common with age, and about 12 percent of people age 75 and above are estimated to have moderate-to-severe heart valve disease.
Sue Peschin, president and chief executive of the Alliance for Aging Research, said knowing about heart valve disease is particularly crucial for older adults, who are often managing multiple health issues or visiting specialists who may not regularly listen to the heart.
“It’s important to have a dialogue about your heart with your health provider, no matter what your age,” she said. “A simple check with a stethoscope can identify a heart murmur and that can save your life.”