UPMC Check Your Heart: what you need to know about structural heart disease

PITTSBURGH — When most people think of heart disease, they think about blockages in the heart arteries. That’s the most common form. But on this heart month, people need to know there’s another type called structural heart disease.

“So, valves can leak, like mitral valve regurgitation, valves can become blocked, such as aortic valve stenosis. There are also things that you can be born with that fall under structural heart disease, like a small hole in the top chambers of the heart,” said UPMC cardiologist Jeffrey Fowler.

Dr. Fowler said the steps to prevent structural heart disease can be the same. They include lowering cholesterol, managing blood pressure, staying active, eating healthy, quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.

“There are other risk factors that you can’t control, but are important to help understand your risk,” added Dr. Fowler. “These are things like your age, your gender, your race or ethnicity as well as your hereditary, like your family history of heart disease.”

Women may experience different symptoms of structural heart disease than men, but the overall symptoms are chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, fatigue or lightheadedness.

“You may also see fluid accumulation in your body, which you may recognize as swelling in the ankles or shortness of breath with activities or lying flat. Also, rapid weight gain,” said Dr. Fowler.

UPMC is on the cutting edge of several trials right now looking at treatments. But other treatments include lifestyle changes and medication or procedures a little more involved, like catheters or heart valve replacements.

Dr. Fowler stressed the best treatment involves early detection, so get your heart checked regularly.

“Early diagnosis and treatments are key to preventing last damage to your heart,” Dr. Fowler said.

Dr. Fowler also stressed the importance of regular screenings and urged anyone who put off a screening or cancelled a doctor’s appointment during the pandemic to schedule a new appointment immediately.

For more on heart screening or services in our area, visit UPMC’s Check Your Heart page.

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