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More than a quarter of over-60s have undiagnosed heart valve disease

Without displaying any symptoms, the disease increases the risk of having a heart attack, stroke and other heart conditions

More than a quarter of adults aged over 60 have undiagnosed heart valve disease. According to research by the University of East Anglia (UEA), the adults were healthy, symptom-free and did not suspect to have the disease.

Co-lead researcher Vassilios Vassiliou, a clinical professor of cardiac medicine at UEA’s Norwich medical school said: ‘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.’

He added that the research could help gauge 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’.

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Heart valve disease 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 (valve stenosis) which restricts the flow of blood, or the valve not closing properly (valve regurgitation) which means blood can leak back in the wrong direction.

Funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), the research involved 4,327 asymptomatic patients aged 60 who were studied for over a decade. They were evaluated with a health questionnaire, clinical examination and transthoracic echocardiography, which is an ultrasound of the heart. The researchers diagnosed 28.2% of the participants with heart valve disease.

Co-lead researcher Professor Michael Frenneaux, of the Royal Brompton Hospital, said that the hearts of the 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 said.

While the research highlights the ‘widespread’ prevalence of heart valve disease, James Leiper, Associate Medical Director at the BHF said that ‘further research will be required to build on these strong foundations and develop methods to test the feasibility of disease identification in these individuals’.