7 Top Risk Factors for Heart Valve Disease

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN on March 26, 2021
  • Senior man sitting on bed with woman at the back
    You should know the risk factors for heart valve disease.
    Your heart valves are small flaps that open and close inside your heart, ensuring blood flows in the right direction in your body. Heart valve disease occurs when one or more of your heart valves don’t work well, and it can be an especially dangerous problem. Heart valve disease can mean many things, like having a valve that leaks or having heart valves that are stiff and don’t open easily. It can also mean that you develop a condition called aortic stenosis, where your aortic heart valve narrows and prevents blood from flowing freely out of your heart. While heart valve disease can ultimately affect anyone, there are some risk factors that might make you much more likely to develop this condition.
  • Older man
    1. Age
    People are living longer than ever, but with increased life expectancy comes an increased risk of developing heart valve disease. It’s more common for older people to have problems with their heart valves. As you age, calcium deposits can build up on your heart valves, causing them to become thicker and stiffer. This means your heart valves will function less effectively – they may not open and close the way they should.
  • Man Having Chest Pains
    2. Other Heart Conditions
    If you have a history of other heart problems, you could be more at risk for developing heart valve disease. People who had a heart attack or other heart problem, like heart failure, in the past usually have damage to their heart muscle, which can affect the way the heart valves work. Also, if you were born with a heart condition, you might be more likely to have heart valve disease.
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  • endoscopy-biopsy
    3. Endocarditis
    Endocarditis is an infection of the endocardium, the inner lining of your heart valves and chambers of your heart. It’s usually caused by certain bacteria or fungi. You’re more likely to get endocarditis if you have poor oral hygiene, use intravenous (IV) drugs, or have a catheter placed in your body for a long period of time. Endocarditis is usually treated successfully with antibiotics for several weeks, but it can still cause heart valve disease later in your life.
  • Female doctor examining her patient
    4. Rheumatic Fever
    Rheumatic fever is caused by the same bacteria that causes strep throat. It usually only occurs in people who don’t get treatment for their strep throat infection. Rheumatic fever can cause permanent damage to your heart muscle and valves as your body tries to fight the infection, like making your valves narrower or causing a valve to leak. Symptoms of heart valve damage might not occur until 10- 20 years after you had rheumatic fever.
  • Caregiver taking blood pressure of older man in wheelchair
    5. High Blood Pressure
    Blood pressure is the force of your blood as it pushes against the inside of your arteries. Blood pressure that’s too high and uncontrolled for many years can make your heart, or the main arteries in your body, larger than they should be, which can cause problems with your heart valves. If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to stick to your doctor’s treatment plan to help prevent any problems.
  • radiation-machine-in-hospital
    6. Previous Radiation Therapy
    Radiation therapy is used to treat many types of cancer that occur in the chest. If you had childhood cancer and received radiation to your chest, you might be more at risk for developing heart valve disease later in life. Radiation can cause your heart muscle and arteries to stiffen, which affects the functioning of your heart valves. Some people develop heart valve disease years after receiving radiation therapy, and some people never have this problem.
  • Smoking
    7. Smoking
    Smoking is a major risk factor for all types of heart disease. If you smoke, it’s possible for the chemicals in tobacco to change how your heart and blood vessels function.  This can include a change in the shape of your heart valves which makes them unable to open and close the way they should. If you smoke, the best thing you can do to reduce your chances of having heart valve disease is quit.
7 Top Risk Factors for Heart Valve Disease

About The Author

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN began writing professionally in 2016. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and worked as a registered nurse in multiple specialties, including pharmaceuticals, operating room/surgery, endocrinology, and family practice. With over nine years of clinical practice experience, Sarah has worked with clients including Healthgrades, Mayo Clinic, Aha Media Group, Wolters Kluwer, and UVA Cancer Center.
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  2. Heart Valve Disease. British Heart Foundation. https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/conditions/heart-valve-disease
  3. Aortic valve stenosis: Risk factors. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/aortic-stenosis/basics/risk-factors/con-20026329
  4. What is endocarditis? U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/endo
  5. Heart Valve Disease: What is Heart Valve Disease? University of California, San Francisco Department of Surgery. http://surgery.ucsf.edu/conditions--procedures/heart-valve-disease.aspx
  6. Radiation induced heart disease: Pathogenesis, management and review literature. Journal of the Egyptian National Cancer Institute. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1110036215000631
  7. Valvular Heart Disease. Johns Hopkins Medicine, Heart & Vascular Institute. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/heart_vascular_institute/conditions_treatments/conditions/valvular_heart_disease.html
  8. Risks for Heart Valve Problems. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/HeartValveProblemsandDisease/Risks-for-Heart-Valve-Problems_UCM_450890_Article.jsp#.WK2ELvkrKUl
  9. Rheumatic fever: symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatic-fever/symptoms-causes/dxc-20261256
  10. Aortic valve stenosis. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/aortic-stenosis/basics/definition/con-20026329
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Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 26
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