Almost 300,000 people in the UK have aortic stenosis, a potentially fatal heart condition, according to the first major study to estimate its prevalence.
the NHS The sheer number of people needing treatment would be difficult to manage over the next few years, and the number is likely to continue to rise, the researchers warned.
More than half of patients with advanced forms of the disease would likely die within five years if not treated in a timely and proactive manner, they added. Their results were published in the BMJ’s journal Open Heart.
Aortenstenose happens when the aortic valve, the heart’s main outflow valve, stiffens and narrows. This means it can no longer open fully, reducing or blocking blood flow from the heart to the aorta and the rest of the body.
In a significant proportion of people, the disease remains “silent”, with symptoms only appearing at an advanced stage. With the UK population aging, it is believed that there are large numbers of undiagnosed people who could benefit from life-saving treatment.
The study involved researchers from NHS England, the University of Glasgow, the University of Southampton and the University of Notre Dame Australia, as well as cardiologists and surgeons in Manchester, Sheffield and Edinburgh.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study to specifically assess the treatable burden of disease associated with severe, symptomatic AS [aortic stenosis] within the UK population,” the authors wrote. “We estimate that nearly 300,000 adults are currently co-living with this potentially fatal condition, driven largely by an aging cohort of the post-war population. Crucially, such an indicative burden is far greater than the current capacity of the NHS to investigate, detect, triage and treat such cases.”
The researchers estimated that the overall prevalence of aortic stenosis among the over-55s in the UK in 2019 was almost 1.5%, which equates to just under 300,000 people co-living with the potentially fatal condition.
Of the total numbers with aortic stenosis, 199,000 (68%) had serious disease in 2019, according to the study. However, the 92,000 with asymptomatic disease, who account for nearly a third of all cases (32%), would likely go undiagnosed unless proactively screened for aortic stenosis or tested for another heart problem, the researchers suggested.
According to the NHS, if someone has aortic valve disease, there may be no symptoms at first, but the condition can eventually become more serious and cause chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, light-headedness or fainting.
In particularly severe cases, the disease can lead to life-threatening problems such as heart failure. As symptoms worsen, patients often need surgery to replace the valve. Without treatment, severe aortic valve disease is likely to get worse and eventually can be fatal.
The researchers acknowledged that they could not verify their estimates and cautioned that population data on the incidence and prevalence of aortic stenosis in the UK is insufficient and their results should therefore be interpreted with caution.
“In conclusion, this study suggests that severe AS [aortic stenosis] is a common condition affecting many in the UK population over the age of 55,” they wrote. “Without proper detection and intervention, their chances of survival are likely poor.”