GPs are being urged to routinely check for heart murmurs in over-65s, when carrying out new patients registrations, health checks or administering the flu jab.
New guidance, published by a UK charity for heart valve disease, warned that that many older people may attribute their symptoms to ageing so might not report their condition and might never be diagnosed.
Heart Valve Voice urges GPs to take a more proactive approach with older patients and to think about opportunities when they have more time to use chest auscultation.
‘The annual flu jab, NHS health checks and new patient registrations are therefore excellent opportunities to screen them for underlying valvular disease using the stethoscope,’ the guidance says.
‘As GPs, we currently use auscultation routinely in less than two fifths of patients whose symptoms suggest heart valve disease.
‘We need to use our stethoscopes more often to check for heart valve disease when an older patient reports symptoms, and potentially consider using this basic investigation during routine consultations with our elderly patients,’ the guidance adds.
Commonly reported symptoms that could indicate heart valve disease include shortness of breath on exertion, chest tightness and/or pain, palpitations, fatigue, dizziness, pre-syncope and syncope, Heart Valve Voice said.
Dr Jarir Amarin, a GP in Enfield and trustee of the charity, said: ‘GPs are put under immense pressure and have very limited consultation times, so this guidance offers brief, practical advice, such as the routine use of the stethoscope in over 65s at flu clinics or NHS checks, to ensure that patients are diagnosed and referred early, and reach the appropriate cardiology team for treatment. Ultimately, leading to a future with better quality and longevity of life.’
Heart Valve Voice points out that heart valve diseases currently affects over 1.5 million people over the age of 65 in the UK. The UK’s ageing population means that the number of people with heart valve disease is expected to rise to 3.3 million by 2056 – a 122% increase.