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One in four healthy people over 60 in UK ‘have undiagnosed heart valve disease’

One in four healthy people over 60 in UK ‘have undiagnosed heart valve disease’

One in four healthy people aged 60 and over in the UK have undiagnosed heart valve disease, research suggests.

The conditions develops when one or more of the heart valves do not work properly. The main problems are caused by the valves either not opening fully or not closing correctly.

Heart valve disease could put extra strain on the heart and increased the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiac health problems, experts said.

Researchers led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) found one in four adults who were healthy and had no symptoms had the disease but didn’t know it. Their findings were published in the European Heart Journal Cardiovascular Imaging.

The co-lead author Vassilios Vassiliou, a clinical professor of cardiac medicine at UEA’s Norwich medical school, said: “This study focused on understanding how widespread heart valve issues of any severity are among healthy, symptom-free adults without any known heart diseases.

“We examined almost 4,500 individuals aged 60 and older from three regions in the UK: Norfolk, West Midlands and Aberdeen, using echocardiography, which is an ultrasound of the heart.

“Our findings showed that more than 28% of these adults had some form of heart valve disease, although reassuringly it was only mild in the majority of the cases.

“The data also indicated that age was the main factor associated with these heart valve problems, meaning that the older a person is, the higher their chance of having a significant valve issue.”

The co-lead author Prof Michael Frenneaux, of the Royal Brompton hospital in London, said the hearts of those people with undetected disease were likely to be put under more pressure as a result. “Over time, it can increase the risk of having a heart attack, stroke and other heart conditions,” he added.

Symptoms can include feeling breathless, chest pain, feeling weak or dizzy, swollen ankles and feet, feeling more tired than usual and chest or neck palpitations.

Over more than a decade, 4,327 asymptomatic patients aged 60 and over took part in the study funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) after being invited via their general practice.

They were evaluated with a health questionnaire, clinical examination and transthoracic echocardiography, which is an ultrasound of the heart. Heart valve disease was diagnosed in 28.2% of the participants.

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“This study reveals that many older adults have heart valve issues, even if they don’t show any symptoms and we would suggest that if people do develop any new symptoms or signs that could indicate heart disease to discuss this with their doctor,” said Vassiliou.

“As our population ages, this information can help healthcare providers understand the scale of valve disease and streamline routine care methods and screening programmes to ensure that we can cope with the demand in the future.

“This way, they can better identify and help those at risk before problems become serious.”

Prof James Leiper, BHF’s associate medical director, said the findings were important and called for research to find ways to identify more people with heart valve disease.

A separate study on Thursday, published in the British Medical Journal, found that a decline in coronary heart disease rates among people under 60 in the UK had stalled, with researchers saying this could be down to rising obesity rates and a lack of exercise.

Source: theguardian.com