Your risk of developing heart valve disease is influenced by a variety of factors, including age and gender, family history, and your overall health history, including certain health conditions.
- Age and gender – Men* (assigned male at birth) over 65 and women (assigned female at birth) over 75 are at greater risk for acquired valve disease. Valve leaflets thicken and become less pliable as we age. Sometimes the tissues that connect the leaflets to the heart stretch or tear. These deteriorations compromise the smooth movement and flexibility that allow the leaflets and the valves to work as they should.
- Family history – Some valve problems may run in families. Learn as much as possible about your family history and share that with your doctor. One example is bicuspid aortic valve disease, which is a congenital heart valve disease where the aortic valve has two leaflets instead of three, as in normal cases.
- Health history – Certain infections (such as rheumatic fever at a young age), heart failure, kidney disease, hypertension, or metabolic disorders can increase your risk of heart valve disease.
- High blood pressure – Persistent high blood pressure can overwork and enlarge your heart. As the heart enlarges, the tissues encircling the valves stretch and cause leaks.
- Autoimmune diseases – Autoimmune diseases like lupus can cause inflammation that affects the heart valve leaflets and damages the valves.
- Chemotherapy and radiation for cancer – Cancer drugs or radiation therapy can compromise heart valve function. Damage from cancer treatment may take years to trigger symptoms.
- Congenital disorders – Congenital disorders, such as bicuspid aortic valve disease and Marfan’s syndrome, affect connective tissues like cartilage, which can affect the shape and function of heart valves.
- Diet medications – Some diet medications have been linked to heart valve problems. These conditions commonly improve after the medicines are discontinued.
- Heart attack – A heart attack can damage or scar the heart muscle that supports the valve structure, causing the valve to leak.
- Cardiomyopathy – Cardiomyopathy is a condition that affects the heart muscle (also called congestive heart failure), causing the heart to enlarge. This can cause the tissue encircling the valves to stretch and pull the valves, causing them to leak.
- Endocarditis – Infections can travel from other parts of your body, such as your gums, skin, and lungs, to your bloodstream and eventually find a spot on the heart valves, causing damage. The risk for valve infections increases in patients with compromised heart valve function.
- Rheumatic fever – Recurrent and untreated strep throat can result in rheumatic fever, which leads to heart valve infection and damage. This inhibits the smooth movement of the valves. Rheumatic fever can affect any of the four heart valves, but it more commonly affects the aortic and mitral valves on the left side of the heart.
Certain metabolic disorders like Fabry’s disease, high blood cholesterol, or parathyroid conditions may be associated with enzyme or mineral imbalances that damage heart valves.
*The term “men” in the context of “cardiovascular health” applies to individuals assigned male at birth (AMAB) who have a male biological reproductive system, which includes a penis, scrotum, testes, epididymis, vas deferens, prostate, and seminal vesicles.
*The term “women” in the context of “women’s cardiovascular health” applies to individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB) who have a female biological reproductive system, which includes a vagina, uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, accessory glands, and external genital organs.