Did you know that more than five million Americans are diagnosed with heart valve disease each year? Of those, 1.5 million suffer from aortic stenosis (AS), which occurs when the aortic valve does not open properly and affects the amount of blood pumped from the heart with each beat, ultimately weakening the heart.
The current climate of COVID-19 has brought new challenges to our lives, particularly for those with chronic illnesses like heart valve disease. In fact, the American Heart Association warns that the COVID-19 pandemic has led many individuals to delay cardiac care that can cause more severe health emergencies.
Now, more than ever, it is critical to stay in close contact with your doctors if you have a chronic condition. When I was diagnosed with aortic stenosis in 2005, I quickly realized that my path to care wouldn’t be easy. At first, I didn’t know who to trust. I didn’t know what was wrong with my heart, but I did know it was life-threatening. What helped me was asking and seeking out the right sources to my questions.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with AS or wondering if it could be an issue for you or a loved one, here are five questions to consider:
1. What are the symptoms of aortic stenosis (AS)?
Each of the following symptoms is a sign of heart valve disease and should not be ignored. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your cardiologist right away. Many of these symptoms may be associated with other heart valve conditions.
- Chest pain
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed
- Difficulty walking short distances
- Trouble breathing or feeling out of breath
- Rapid, fluttering heartbeat
2. What can I do to find the right treatment option?
Nearly half of heart valve patients (49 percent) from a recent Heart-Valve-Surgery.com survey reported a quick return to active living as a key factor in their treatment decision. By taking charge of your health and learning more about AS, you’re already on the right track.
In the survey, most (90 percent) heart valve patients were influenced by conversations with their doctor when making a treatment decision. This was more than any other factor, including conducting their own online research (55 percent) and conversations with family or friends (28 percent). To find the right treatment option, talk with your doctor. Start a conversation around what treatments are available and learn which options are right for you so you can get back to your favorite activities sooner rather than later.
3. Am I a candidate for a less invasive procedure?
In addition to traditional surgical aortic valve replacement (SAVR), you may want to ask if you could be a candidate for a less invasive treatment option, such as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR).
FDA-approved minimally invasive procedures, like TAVR, may require less time in the hospital with faster procedure times, and may result in an overall quicker recovery. According to the HVS survey, the majority of patients who received TAVR (98 percent) reported being satisfied with TAVR as a treatment option. Talk with your cardiologist to determine if TAVR is an option for you.
4. What advice do heart valve patients have for others seeking treatment?
Understanding all the steps around the diagnosis and treatment process for heart valve disease can be overwhelming. However, the right information can help empower you to feel confident in your treatment decision. Recent research from HVS found that more than 1 in 3 (36 percent) of heart valve patients wished they had talked to other patients or an online support group, or asked more questions at their doctor’s appointments (37 percent). There is a wealth of educational resources available to patients. Today, more than 300,000 patients and caregivers belong to the online support group provided by HVS.
5. How will heart valve surgery impact my life?
Recent research from HVS found that 3 in 4 patients (82 percent) who received heart valve surgery reported being able to exercise as a top benefit post-treatment, while nearly half (47 percent) said their heart valve procedure allowed them to spend more time with family and friends.
To learn more about heart valve disease and the Active Living Awareness Initiative, visit https://www.heart-valve-surgery.com/medtronic-active-living-patient-survey
Adam Pick is a heart valve patient, patient advocate and author of The Patient’s Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded Heart-Valve-Surgery.com to educate and to empower patients from diagnosis through recovery. Heart-Valve-Surgery.com (HVS) and Medtronic collaborated to launch the Active Living Awareness Initiative, providing resources, support and educational materials for heart valve patients.