Get an echocardiogram and know for sure.
The first step in finding out if you have heart valve disease is to schedule an appointment and make sure to keep it. Don’t wait for your annual check-up. The longer you wait, the worse heart valve disease can get. At your appointment, it’s important to have an open conversation with your doctor—the more detailed the better.
Even if you’ve mentioned symptoms to your doctor before, it’s helpful to bring them up again. Heart valve disease goes undiagnosed in millions of seniors.
Your doctor might recommend a number of tests to see if you have heart valve disease—a stress test, chest X-ray, or MRI—or they might use a stethoscope to listen for a heart murmur. Unfortunately, those methods aren’t always enough to detect heart valve disease. If your doctor notices symptoms or detects a murmur, they will order an echocardiogram.
Don’t worry, getting an echocardiogram is nothing to be scared of. An “echo” is a painless test that takes as little as 20 minutes and uses sound waves to take a picture of your heart. Once your doctor has a complete picture, they can see if your heart valves are working properly and determine if you have heart valve disease.
If you’ve had an echocardiogram before and weren’t diagnosed, ask your doctor if it’s an appropriate time to test again. If you’ve already been diagnosed, it’s still important to get an echocardiogram every so often since heart valve disease gets worse over time.
How often should diagnosed patients get an echocardiogram?
|Every 3 to 5 years|
|Every 1 to 2 years|
|Every 6 to 12 months*|
*Every 1-2 years if you have mitral stenosis
There’s no way to prevent heart valve disease, but when it comes to treatments, you’ve got options. Your doctor will choose the best treatment option for you, and it’s important you receive treatment as soon as possible. Up to half of people with severe aortic stenosis, a form of heart valve disease, die within just 2 years of first showing symptoms if left untreated.
So, if you're diagnosed with heart valve disease, what can you do?
If you’ve been diagnosed with severe heart valve disease, your doctor may recommend a transcatheter procedure. It’s a less invasive way to repair or replace your valve using a small tube, typically inserted in your leg, instead of a large incision across your chest.
Your doctor may recommend open heart surgery, which requires an incision to get to your valve and replace it. The incision is usually the full length of your chest, but sometimes it can be smaller. Once the incision is made, your old valve is removed and a replacement is surgically inserted.
If you’ve been diagnosed with mild or moderate heart valve disease, your doctor may decide that a transcatheter procedure or open heart surgery is not necessary and suggest monitoring your condition with regular follow-ups. Make sure to let your doctor know if your symptoms get worse or change and remember to get an echocardiogram every so often since heart valve disease gets worse over time.