Low awareness of serious but treatable heart condition could be putting Canadian lives at risk

September 15, 2020
  • Heart valve disease is a common, serious but treatable condition, often associated with ageing, yet only 3% of older Canadians are aware of its most common form
  • Survey shows huge variance across Canada in use of simple stethoscope check to pick up characteristic ‘murmur’ of the heart valves, from 60% of older people in Manitoba, to only 9% of those questioned in New Brunswick.
  • 1 in 5 older Canadians are caregivers (20%); heart valve disease does not only impact individual quality of life but could also have a knock-on effect on the community healthcare burden

TORONTO, ONTARIO (September 14, 2020) – Survey results published by Global Heart Hub show that older Canadians are as unaware as ever of aortic stenosis, the most common form of heart valve disease. In its most serious form, more than half of patients with severe heart valve disease die within two years of developing symptoms. As a fifth (21%) of older Canadians regularly work or volunteer for a charity, heart valve disease could have a knock-on effect on the community.

“The survey demonstrates that more needs to be done to raise awareness of heart valve disease and the importance of an annual stethoscope check for those most likely to suffer. If you are over 65, it’s important to ask your GP for a stethoscope check once a year,” commented Dr. Charles Peniston, Cardiologist and Cardiothoracic Surgery Specialist, Chair of HVV’s Board of Directors. “Our senior people selflessly confined themselves to protect the health of others during COVID-19; now it is time to ensure that they receive the treatments that will transform their quality of life and lower their vulnerability to future pandemics and other significant infections.”

Senior people are crucial contributors to the economy and society. The Survey reveals that a fifth (20%) provide care for someone close to them. They are also an active group, 75% of whom regularly participate in voluntary, community-based, social or physical activities. Increased awareness and early detection of heart valve disease is therefore not only important to patients, but also for those dependent on them, the local community and the wider economy.

It is estimated that by the age of 75, the prevalence of heart valve disease is 13%, putting the senior population more at risk as they grow older. Many people living with heart valve disease do not experience severe or noticeable symptoms, or simply put their symptoms down to ageing, which makes diagnosis of the disease challenging. This new Survey worryingly reveals that only a low percentage of older Canadians would seek an appointment with their GP if they experienced key heart valve disease symptoms such as fatigue (35%), reduced physical activity (24%) and ‘feeling older than your age’ (20%). Such hesitancy could potentially be harmful, as it prevents early detection opportunities.

Initial detection of the disease involves identifying symptoms and listening to the heart with a stethoscope. Although the number of older people in Canada receiving stethoscope checks at every visit to their GP increased in recent years (2019: 46%, 2017: 44%), there is substantial variance across the nation. Surveyed people living in Manitoba (60%) are three times more likely to receive the simple check compared to those living in New Brunswick (9%). Older women in Canada continue to be less likely to receive a stethoscope check at every visit than older men (2019: men 48%, women 44%; 2017: men: 50%, women 39%).

John Stott, a former heart valve disease patient and board member of Heart Valve Voice Canada commented: “As the Survey results demonstrate, we need to cherish our older generation because of the essential contribution they make to our economies, communities and families. That starts with a regular stethoscope check for heart valve disease and culminates in effective treatment that gets them back to an active life.”

Heart valve disease is the name given to any malfunction or abnormality of one or more of the heart’s four valves, affecting the flow of blood through the heart. It is a common, serious, but treatable condition which is particularly associated with ageing. If diagnosed in a timely way, patients can return to a good quality of life, therefore early diagnosis is essential.  The condition is usually caused by disease, wear or damage to the heart valve or valves. Key symptoms include chest tightness/pain, abnormal heart beats and shortness of breath.  


About Heart Valve Voice Canada

Heart Valve Voice Canada is a non-profit patient advocacy organization that works to improve the health and quality of life of people living with heart valve disease. They advocate for increased and early diagnosis, timely access to appropriate treatment, removal of barriers to receiving that diagnosis and treatment, and ensuring meaningful support systems for those affected by heart valve disease. Their advocacy network includes patients and their support systems, a multi-disciplinary group of health care professionals, and other cardiac and patient advocacy and service organizations.

Heart Valve Disease

Heart valve disease is when one or more of your heart valves become diseased or damaged, affecting the way that blood flows through your heart.  Aortic stenosis is a form of heart valve disease, most often developed due to age-related degeneration or hardening (calcification) of the aortic valve, leading to progressive narrowing (stenosis) - changes which compromise valve function and impair normal blood flow through the heart.  The symptoms of aortic stenosis are chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, light-headedness, fainting and difficulty exercising.

Heart Health Survey

The Heart Health Survey was previously conducted in 2015 and 2017. The 2019 Survey was led by a steering committee of healthcare professionals and patient organization representatives. The aim was to assess public awareness of aortic stenosis and symptoms of heart valve disease, measure the frequency of stethoscope use, understand preferences of treatment and identify the role that older people play in society. The Survey was conducted among 1,001 people over the age of 60 across Canada and 12,832 people over the age of 60 across 11 European countries: France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland and the UK.


  • Censuswide (2019) Heart Health Survey –research of 1,001 Canadians over the aged of 60.
  • Otto CM. Timing of aortic valve surgery. Heart 2000; 84:211–218
  • Global Coalition on Aging. Healthy heart for healthy aging: the need for awareness, innovation, and collaboration in Cardiovascular Health. White Paper. 2020.
  • Nkomo V et al. Burden of valvular heart disease: a population-based study. Lancet. 2006;368:1005-11
  • Heart Valve Voice. Available at https://www.heartvalvevoice.com/heart-valve-disease/treatment Accessed April 2020
  • British Heart Foundation: Heart Valve Disease. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/conditions/heart-valve-disease. Accessed July 2020
  • Patient.co.uk. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/heart-valves-and-valve-disease. Accessed April 2020.
  • BUPA. Heart Valve Disease. Available at: https://www.bupa.co.uk/health-information/heart-blood-circulation/heart-valve-disease Accessed August 2020
  • Patient.co.uk. Available at: http://patient.info/health/aortic-stenosis-leaflet. Accessed July 2020
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