I visited the drop in hosted by Heart Valve Voice in Parliament on the 5th July to learn more about heart valve disease in the UK and to help support Heart Valve Voice’s awareness campaign. Heart valve disease affects a high proportion of the UK population, yet it's worrying that there are such low levels of awareness and concern across the country. The work of Heart Valve Voice in raising awareness is very important and I welcome their efforts in seeking to improve diagnosis and treatment of heart valve disease.
A recent survey revealed 94% of the over 60s in the UK do not know what aortic stenosis is, and 72% of over 60s reported that they rarely, or never, have their hearts listened to by a doctor.[i] This is despite annual mortality of severe aortic stenosis being considerably higher than most cancers[ii]* and heart valve disease affecting approximately one million people over 65 years of age in the UK.[iii] If left untreated, heart valve disease is irreversible and can progress to heart failure and ultimately death. Once patients are diagnosed, Heart Valve Voice is also calling for a clearer pathway between primary, secondary and tertiary care to ensure more effective management of the disease across the UK.
"People with heart valve disease are not recognizing symptoms when they arise, or not receiving a quick heart check-up when they visit their GP. There is significant under diagnosis as well as incorrect referrals due to a lack of education and awareness. Heart Valve Voice is campaigning for stethoscope checks and echocardiogram tests for heart valve disease to be incorporated as part of routine checks in the over 60s so that all suitable patients can be referred and have access to appropriate treatment at the right time.” Shelley Rahman-Haley, Consultant Cardiologist, Royal Brompton Hospital and Heart Valve Voice Trustee
Heart valve disease is a progressive condition usually associated with ageing, whereby the heart valves become damaged through wear or disease and cease to work properly. When the valves are diseased it can rapidly affect the pumping action of blood around the body. The condition is treatable if identified early enough and can be diagnosed by simply listening to the heart with a stethoscope and followed up with an echocardiogram.
Many patients do not suffer severe or visible symptoms, or put their symptoms down to the natural ageing process, making diagnosis difficult. It is important to diagnose early as, if severe aortic stenosis is left untreated, half of those patients will die within two years of developing symptoms.[iv] There are treatments which are very effective at treating symptoms, improving life expectancy and helping patients return to a normal life.
“Heart Valve Voice is grateful for the support of Alan Brown MP who is highlighting the importance of increased awareness and treatment of heart valve disease within their constituency. It’s hugely important that we continue to engage parliamentarians and policymakers to promote the use of the stethoscope and to work towards ensuring there is a clear and effective treatment pathway between primary care, secondary care and expert heart teams to ensure more effective management of the disease. The more we listen, the more lives we save.” Wil Woan, Chief Executive of Heart Valve Voice.
[i] Opinion Matters. Aortic valve stenosis – What do people know? A Heart Valve Disease Awareness Survey of over 8,800 people aged 60 or over. Survey carried out 28/09/2015 – 12/10/2015. Data on file. Survey funded by Edwards Lifesciences.
[iii] The changing burden of heart valve disease. British Cardiovascular Society. https://www.bcs.com/pages/news_full.asp?NewsID=19792059. Accessed: 10 March 2016
[iv] Spaccarotella C et al. Pathophysiology of aortic stenosis and approach to treatment with percutaneous valve implantation. Circulation Journal. 2011;75:11-19.