At the heart of any football team is a trusted coach. John Fox, the heart of this year’s winning Denver Broncos, will have to sit on the sidelines for several weeks after having aortic valve replacement surgery at a hospital in Charlotte, N.C.
Fox, 58, knew about his heart condition, but was hoping to put off surgery until after the season. Last Saturday, however, he became dizzy playing golf near his offseason residence. He was immediately taken to a hospital, where tests determined his heart couldn’t wait any longer.
So what is the outlook for Fox and others living with heart valve disease?
According to the American Heart Association, around 5 million Americans are diagnosed with heart valve disease every year. While advanced heart valve disease can lead to heart failure, stroke, blood clots or sudden cardiac death (SCA) without treatment, the condition can be successfully managed with medicines, lifestyle changes, and depending on the severity, surgery.
A Closer Look at Valve Disease
What is heart valve disease?
Heart valve disease happens when the valves in your heart don’t work the way they’re supposed to work. Heart valves have tissue flaps that open and close with each heartbeat. The flaps make sure blood flows in the correct direction through your heart’s four chambers, as well as to the rest of your body. Birth defects, age-related changes, infections and other health conditions can cause one or more of your heart valves to not open fully, or to allow blood to leak back into the heart chambers. This can make your heart work harder, affecting its ability to pump blood.
What are the symptoms of heart valve disease?
- Shortness of breath and/or trouble catching your breath (especially when active or lying down flat in bed)
- Weakness or dizziness
- Discomfort in your chest (e.g., pressure or weight in your chest with activity, or when going outside in cold air)
- Palpitations (e.g., feels like your heart is beating too fast, skipping beats or beating out of rhythm)
- Swelling of the ankles, feet or abdomen
- Rapid weight gain
How is it diagnosed?
Only a heart doctor can tell you if you have valve disease by talking to you about your symptoms, performing a thorough physical exam and ordering additional testing as needed (e.g., echocardiogram, transesophageal echocardiogram, cardiac catheterization).
How is it treated?
Treatment can include lifestyle changes, medication and surgery to repair or replace the diseased heart valve (Fox had his heart valve replaced). In heart valve replacement, for example, the surgery involves removing the faulty valve and replacing it with a man-made or biological valve (made from pig, cow or human heart tissue, and/or artificial or synthetic parts).
Newer forms of heart valve repair and replacement surgery are less invasive than traditional surgery. These options use smaller cuts to reach the heart valves. Minimally invasive techniques like these result in shorter hospital stays, less pain and risk of infection, and faster recoveries. If you are a candidate for heart valve repair or replacement, your chosen procedure will depend on the extent of your disease, your age and general health, and other factors discussed between you and your doctor.
How can you further protect your heart?
If you have heart valve disease, you can help protect the health of your heart by:
- Understanding the type and severity of your disease
- Informing all health care providers, including your dentist, about your heart valve disease
- Taking good care of your teeth and gums
- Contacting your doctor if you have symptoms of any kind of infection
- Taking an antibiotic before you have any procedure that might cause bleeding
- Taking medications exactly as prescribed by your physician
- Visiting your heart doctor on a regular basis, even if you don’t have symptoms
The Borgess Heart Institute wishes John Fox a speedy and healthy return to the field.