More than a quarter of a million Australian are living with heart valve disease (HVD) without even realising it.
The 2023 Heart Valve Disease Awareness week runs from 20 to 26 of February. A national campaign spearheaded by Aussie health charity hearts4heart, this year’s focus lies in improving public understanding of heart valve disease symptoms and encouraging everyone, particularly those considered at-risk of developing HVD, to undertake a heart check during their annual health screening.
hearts4heart Founder and CEO, Tanya Hall, says early detection is essential to improve the quality of life for people living with HVD.
“Heart Valve Disease is a more common condition that many realise.”
“It occurs when one or more of our heart’s valves fail to open or close properly, and can lead to heart failure, stroke, and ultimately death.”
“Early detection can make a big difference in the longevity and quality of life for those diagnosed with HVD, but this is unfortunately a condition that slips under the radar all too often,” she said.
Symptoms of HDV include shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations, fatigue, dizziness or fainting, swelling in the ankles, feet, abdomen, or chest, rapid unexplained weight changes, coughing or wheezing, and an irregular heartbeat. Ms Hall explains that these symptoms can sometimes be written off as simple ageing, which is why heart checks are so important.
“We really want people to recognise that these could be a sign of HVD.”
“It’s so important that you speak to your GP and get a heart check if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or if you are classed as an at-risk person.”
“Some patients experience no symptoms at all, so a heart check should be part of your annual physical, even if you feel well,” Ms Hall said.
HVD can only be detected by listening to the heart. Unfortunately, GPs are not currently required to listen to the heart with a stethoscope during heart checks. As the heart check process goes under review this year, hearts4heart will be advocating for the inclusion of a stethoscope inspection.
“At the moment, a Heart Health Check includes checking cholesterol, family history, lifestyle, blood pressure, etc, but not a stethoscope check.”
“In 2023 we are advocating to government to not only continue the Heart Health Check, but to include a recommendation for doctors to listen to their patients’ hearts.”
“For now, when you go for a Heart Health Check, please ask your doctor to do this,” she said.
You may be considered at-risk of developing HVD if you:
- Are over the age of 65,
- Have a family history of HVD,
- Live with high blood-pressure or a pre-existing heart condition,
- Have had open heart surgery,
- Are a smoker,
- Have contracted rheumatic fever or endocarditis.
This Heart Valve Disease Awareness week, why not refresh your understanding of the symptoms of HVD and make a Heart Health Check appointment with your GP? It could save your life. For more information, visit hearts4heart.org.au/ or baker.edu.au/