“Can a Physically Demanding Job Cause an Early Onset of Heart Valve Disease?” Asks Jerry
I just received an interesting question from Jerry. In his email, Jerry writes, “Adam, I’m 53 and a recent mitral valve repair and aortic valve replacement patient. My question is… Can a physically demanding profession – like wildland firefighting — contribute to, cause an early onset, or accelerate the development of valve disease in a previously healthy person?”
To help Jerry better understand the progression of valvular disease, I contacted Dr. Luis Castro from the Sequoia Hospital Heart & Vascular Institute in Redwood City, California. Doctor Castro offered several interesting thoughts for Jerry that I decided to share with our community. Here is Dr. Castro’s response:
Jerry, that is a fantastic question! Although the direct relationship between stress and cardiovascular disease is still under scientific scrutiny and investigation, we can all agree that stress appears to be playing a major role in modulating blood pressure and influencing basic “wear and tear” on the human body. The human heart is a mechanical pump, with moveable parts, and because of that, is prone to injury as well. The fact that most of us escape this planet without valvular heart problems is a miracle in and of itself! Consider the amazing design and beautifully functional structure of your heart valve leaflets. They open and close with every beat of your heart, approximately 80- 100,000 times per day… that is at least 1.5 billion times by the age of 50!
Dr. Castro then touched on the potential impact of blood pressure and physical stress specific to the functioning of our valves.
Blood pressure, or stress, can be simply compared to the engine idle of your car. Not much wear is being demanded at rest — when the engine is idling at less than 1000rpm. Now imagine your car in neutral with the gas pedal slightly depressed and idling at 3000rpm… the engine is working harder, and it is just sitting still at 0 miles per hour. Now, add a slightly malformed valve at birth, or acquired injury by infection, etc., and you add on top of this, increased vulnerability to wear and tear by additional stresses inflicted by blood pressure and other modulators… It is certainly within reason to believe that added stress can contribute to early valve deterioration. We are all deeply grateful to fire fighters and alike who risk their lives on the job as part of a “routine” days work. I hope that this helps. Luis Castro, MD
Thanks to Jerry for his question and a special thanks to Dr. Castro for sharing his clinical experience and research with our patient community.
Keep on tickin!
Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.