Heart valve cases continue to climb
New research warns rates of undiagnosed heart valve disease are rising rapidly across the nation and Goulburn Valley specialists urge people over 65 to get a regular heart check-up.
A Baker Institute paper released this month revealed heart valve disease was becoming an ‘‘emerging public health issue’’ among Australia’s ageing population.
The institute predicted the number of undiagnosed cases of heart valve disease to climb in the next three decades to 435,000 cases by 2051, which was likely to place a heavy burden on the healthcare system and economy.
More than half a million Australians live with heart valve disease — the malfunctioning of one or more valves that disrupts blood f low through the heart.
A further quarter of a million Australians are at risk of serious complications from faulty heart valves and don’t know it.
GV Health visiting cardiologist Jennifer Coller said heart valve disease could go underdiagnosed if symptoms like shortness of breath were mild or just put down to the process of ageing.
‘‘That is why it’s important to check in regularly with a general practitioner over time, to talk about any new symptoms,’’ she said.
Dr Coller said the chance of heart valve disease rose as people aged, similar to other heart conditions like coronary artery disease.
The most common way narrowed or leaky valves were detected was if a doctor heard a murmur at a regular check-up.
‘‘General practitioners regularly listen to the heart at routine appointments to check for murmurs,’’ Dr Coller said.
‘‘The Heart Health Check, available through GP clinics, provides an assessment of risk factors for heart disease and also includes a physical examination which could detect valvular heart disease, if present.’’
While mild valve disease doesn’t usually need treatment, severe cases may need regular reviews and monitoring with an echocardiogram.
‘‘For people with severe valvular disease and symptoms, there are treatments that can help to improve their ability to exercise and quality of life,’’ Dr Coller said.
‘‘While heart surgery was the only option for many years, newer treatments can often now be performed to avoid surgery.’’
Cardiologist Tom Marwick said much like a machine could break down, the heart could malfunction if all parts weren’t working well.
‘‘This includes small but incredibly important components, such as the valves between the atria and ventricles that make sure blood f lows in one direction through the heart,’’ he said.
‘‘Ageing causes the blood vessels to progressively lose elasticity and become stiff, impacting the vascular structure and function.
‘‘This arterial damage increases mechanical stress on the valves, which are also susceptible to the same threats.’’
Prof Marwick urged people over 65 to ask their doctor to listen to their heart rather than ignore potentially life-threatening symptoms.