Tips to Support Heart Valve Health

World Heart Day is celebrated every year on September 29th.

The global event increases awareness of cardiovascular disease, including how to recognize warning signs and how to reduce your risk of developing heart-related conditions.

It aims to improve access to treatment and support, create a healthy environment that’s good for your heart (such as by reducing pollution), and achieve healthy hearts for all.

World Heart Day encourages people to gain a better understanding of how — and why — leading a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Lifestyle factors, like stress or diet, can play a major role in heart health.

Since many cardiovascular diseases affect the heart valves, heart valve health in particular is important to prioritize during World Heart Day and beyond.

Heart valve disease, or valvular heart disease, occurs when any valve in the heart becomes damaged or diseased.

Heart valves open and close to help regulate the amount of blood that flows into and away from the heart, essentially creating a healthy cardiovascular system.

Disease can be caused by a number of factors, including infection or congenital conditions. There are three main types of heart valve disease:

  • valvular stenosis, when your heart valves become too narrow
  • valvular prolapse, when the valve flaps don’t close properly
  • regurgitation, when blood leaks backward through a valve, sometimes caused by prolapse

Lifestyle changes can boost your heart valve health. Here are easy, healthy changes you can make that can go a long way in supporting your cardiovascular system.

Moderate exercise

Regular physical activity provides numerous health benefits that lead to a healthy heart. Moderate exercise can help you lose excess weight, improve physical fitness, and lower stress.

It can also help you reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, which can both contribute to heart disease.

Adults should get a recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days per week. Examples of moderate exercise include a brisk walk, dancing, gardening, or a slow bike ride.

Healthy eating

Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the most important ways to prevent and manage heart disease.

A good standard to keep in mind is to try and use up at least as many calories as you take in each day. You can increase the number of calories you burn by upping the amount and intensity of your physical activity.

Consider eating a healthy diet that incorporates the following:

  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Look for whole grains and foods made mostly from whole grains.
  • Get your protein from healthy sources, such as legumes, nuts, seafood, or lean meats.
  • Use liquid vegetable oils and avoid tropical oils.
  • Seek out a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • Limit added sugars.
  • Avoid salt.
  • Limit alcohol, or preferably avoid it.

With some extra planning, it’s possible to keep this diet at home and when you go out to eat.

Stopping tobacco use

In the United States, cigarette smoking causes about 1 in every 5 deaths every year.

Smoking is harmful to nearly every organ in your body, especially your heart. In fact, smoking is a major risk for heart disease.

When you smoke, you inhale chemicals that damage your heart and blood vessels. This can make you more prone to developing plaque buildup in your arteries, or atherosclerosis.

Even inhaling secondhand smoke can cause the same damage in people who don’t smoke.

That’s why stopping tobacco use is essential for maintaining not only your own heart health but the health of the people around you.

Dental hygiene

It may come as a surprise, but dental hygiene is closely linked to heart health, particularly heart valve health.

A 2018 study presented by the American Heart Association looked at the connection between toothbrushing habits and the risk of having or dying from a heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.

Researchers found that people who brushed less than twice a day for less than two minutes had a three-fold higher risk for these conditions.

It’s clear that it’s important to brush your teeth at least twice daily for two minutes or more each time to help maintain not only your oral health but also your general and cardiovascular health.

Boosting your awareness

Simply being aware of statistics surrounding heart disease can go a long way. Understanding causes and warning signs can also help you identify and prevent heart disease.

Here’s what you should know about heart valve disease in particular:

Heart valve disease is more common in older adults. Around 2.5% of the U.S. population has heart valve disease.

Nearly 25,000 deaths each year in the United States are from heart valve disease due to causes besides rheumatic disease (caused by damage from rheumatic fever).

Symptoms of heart valve disease can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • fatigue
  • dizziness or fainting
  • fever
  • rapid weight gain
  • irregular heartbeat

Heart valve disease may show no symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. This is why it’s important to have regular physical examinations.

Working with your doctor

It’s important to see your doctor for regular checkups for your overall health. But it’s particularly important to heart health to see your doctor if you suspect or notice any signs of heart valve disease.

Your doctor can help you monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol, and other indicators of potential cardiovascular disease.

You can also work with your doctor on implementing certain lifestyle changes. These include identifying and incorporating a healthy diet, finding ways to reduce stress, and helping you quit smoking or drinking, if needed.

If you have multiple conditions to support, your healthcare team can also collaborate on your overall treatment plan.