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Doctor showing a diagram of the heart valves to a patient

Heart Valve Disease - Is It Worse Than Cancer?

By Himanshu Agarwal, MD June 04, 2024 Posted in: Heart Health

Imagine having cancer symptoms and not doing anything for months or even years, all while your health deteriorates and endangers your life. 

It’s hard to fathom, but many people with heart valve disease do just that. They put up with symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue, or explain away a heart murmur that’s actually a sign of something more serious. 

The consequences of delaying treatment for heart valve disease can be more serious than all the cancers combined. 

  • 50% of patients with severe aortic valve stenosis who develop symptoms of heart failure will not survive beyond 2 years

  • 30-40% of patients with severe mitral valve regurgitation with symptoms will not survive beyond 5 years

How Vital Are Your Heart Valves?

Many people simply don’t realize how vital these little valves are to your health. Each functions like a tiny door in your heart that helps direct blood flow with every heartbeat. 

Aortic valve stenosis occurs when the aortic valve becomes stiff and obstructs blood flow – much like a heavy door that's jammed. Untreated, the heart struggles to pump enough blood, causing fatigue and shortness of breath. 

Mitral valve regurgitation happens when the valve doesn't close properly – like a loose door that flops open. This allows blood to leak backward into the atrium, leading to fluid buildup in the lungs, shortness of breath and fatigue.

The good news is you don’t need major surgery to successfully treat these conditions. See “Surgery without Surgery for Your Heart” to learn more about these conditions and effective treatments which require no major incision, a minimal hospital stay and no lengthy recovery.

Delaying Treatment

Effective treatments make it possible for cardiologists to help people with heart valve disease improve their quality of life and live longer. But we have to see you first. 

Sometimes, people put up with fatigue and shortness of breath because they think it’s just part of getting older. A heart murmur, which can indicate mitral valve regurgitation, is often not followed up on because it doesn’t seem troublesome. It’s important to see your provider if you experience any of these symptoms of valve disease. 

10 Warning Signs of Valve Disease

  1. Shortness of breath. Especially with exertion or when lying down.
  2. Fatigue. Feeling unusually tired or fatigued, even after adequate rest.
  3. Swelling in legs/feet. Especially if it's new or worsening.
  4. Irregular heartbeat. A fluttering or racing heartbeat, or an irregular pulse.
  5. Chest pain/discomfort. Especially if it's new or worsening.
  6. Dizziness/lightheadedness. Especially when standing up.
  7. Hoarseness/persistent cough.
  8. Fainting/near fainting.
  9. Bluish skin. Especially around the lips or fingertips, indicating a lack of oxygen.
  10. Unexplained rapid weight gain. Especially if accompanied by swelling.

Don't let heart valve disease put your life at risk. Early diagnosis and treatment can make all the difference in your long-term health and well-being. Your heart is too important to ignore. Take care of it, and it will take care of you.

For more questions, reach out to your CHI Health Cardiologist.

Himanshu Agarwal, MD
Himanshu Agarwal, MD

Dr. Himanshu Agarwal is an Interventional Cardiologist and currently serves as Director of the Structural Heart Program at CHI Health Heart and Vascular Institute in Omaha, Nebraska.

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