Five signs of heart valve disease: What is it and when do you need help?

Feb. 17, 2020
Older woman holding chest
Photo: Getty Images.

What is heart valve disease?

UCHealth cardiac surgeon Dr. Peter Walinsky says heart valve disease occurs when a heart valve narrows, blocking the flow of blood from your heart to your body, or the valve leaks because it does not close tightly. Eventually, valve disease limits how much blood the heart can pump. Over time, the heart muscle can weaken and if left untreated, the risk of death and the need for hospitalization increases.

5 signs of heart valve disease include:  

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Passing out
  • Fatigue
  • Exercise intolerance

Important to know

Consider the numbers:

In people over age 70, more than 10% have moderate or severe heart valve disease. This is an independent risk factor for major morbidity and mortality. In the case of severe aortic valve stenosis, half of symptomatic patients will die within two years. Nearly all those patients could be saved with surgery.

Is heart valve disease hard to diagnose?

“It does not come on overnight,’’ Walinsky said. “It’s one of the reasons why heart valve disease is so difficult to diagnose. It’s very insidious. Most of the people who have it are older. They think they are just slowing down. It’s important for patients to ask their doctor to put a stethoscope on them and listen to their heart,’’ Walinsky said.

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.