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February is American Heart Month — a time to bring greater awareness to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. 

While heart disease can take many forms, heart valve disease is one of the lesser known conditions. In fact, three out of four Americans know little to nothing about it.

But heart valve disease affects as many as 11 million Americans. While it can be fatal, innovations in medicine have allowed many with the disease to receive effective, minimally invasive treatment. 

But in order to seek treatment, you first have to recognize the signs and symptoms. That’s not always an easy task, especially when many symptoms of heart valve disease, including shortness of breath, dizziness and general fatigue, can easily be mistaken as “normal” signs of aging.  

Those over 75 years old or anyone with a history of heart failure, diabetes, heart attack, or radiation treatment in the chest area for cancer at earlier ages, can be at risk for valve disease.

Fortunately, a simple check-up at the doctor, who can listen to your heart, can usually identify a murmur — which is an irregular heartbeat and a telling sign of heart valve disease.  

Make sure you and your loved ones get your hearts checked. It could save a life. 

— Sue Peschin is president and CEO for the Alliance for Aging Research in Washington, D.C.

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