When damage or disease affects the heart’s pumping chambers or valves, it can interrupt blood flow and cause a range of symptoms.

At Healthscope, our cardiologists are at the forefront of care for people with structural heart disease. We have world-class technologies and facilities to provide fast, accurate diagnosis and management – tailored for you.

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If you are experiencing any cardiac symptoms: chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath. dizziness or fainting or signs of heart failure (swollen ankles, unable to lie flat or waking short of breath) you should contact your GP or present to an emergency department for assessment.

If you require urgent attention dial 000 (Triple Zero) and ask for an Ambulance.

What is structural heart disease?

Structural heart disease is a term used to describe abnormalities in heart structure that interfere with heart function. Structural heart disease includes problems with:

  • the heart’s upper and lower pumping chambers (atria and ventricles)
  • the walls between these chambers
  • the heart valves.

Structural heart disease can affect people of all ages but is more common in older adults.

Structural heart disease symptoms

The signs and symptoms of structural heart disease include: 

  • heart murmur (an abnormal heart sound heard through a stethoscope)
  • chest pain
  • feeling dizzy, faint or light-headed
  • irregular heartbeat
  • palpitations (feeling like your heart is racing, pounding or fluttering)
  • shortness of breath
  • swollen feet and ankles
  • fatigue
  • difficulty exercising.

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor. Structural heart disease can be serious and lead to further complications, but effective treatment is available.

Causes of structural heart disease

Many things can lead to irregularities in heart structure. If the heart doesn’t form as it should while a baby is in the womb, people can be born with structural heart problems. This is known as congenital heart disease.

At least 18 types of congenital heart disease have been identified. Examples include:

  • aortic and pulmonary valve stenosis
  • atrial and ventricular septal defects
  • coarctation of the aorta
  • transposition of the great arteries
  • hypoplastic left heart syndrome
  • patent ductus arteriosus
  • pulmonary atresia
  • tetralogy of Fallot.

Other people develop a structural heart problem later in life. The most common structural heart problem in older adults is heart valve disease, which occurs when one or more of the four heart valves don’t work the way they should.

Common heart valve diseases include:


In which the heart valves become stiff or thickened, which can reduce blood flow and strain your heart muscle.


If a heart valve hasn’t developed the way it should, tissue can block blood flow between the heart’s chambers.


Also known as insufficiency, this occurs when your heart valves don't close properly. This means blood can leak backwards, putting strain on the heart.

Along with problems present from birth, heart valve disease can be related to:

  • ageing
  • heart failure
  • cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle)
  • damage from a heart attack
  • infection of the heart valves
  • scarring from rheumatic fever
  • radiation therapy to the chest.

In some cases of heart valve disease, a cause cannot be identified.

Structural heart problem prevention

It’s not always possible to prevent structural heart disease. However, you can do several things to lower your risk and help your heart stay healthy, such as:

  • managing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • getting treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
  • quitting smoking
  • eating a healthy diet and drinking less alcohol
  • being physically active
  • staying socially connected
  • managing stress and looking after your mental wellbeing
  • getting a Heart Health Check.

Referral for structural heart disease management

If you have symptoms of structural heart disease, your GP might refer you to a cardiologist (heart specialist) for further investigations and management.

To start your treatment for structural heart disease with us, ask your GP for a referral to one of our experienced cardiologists.

Your doctor can address the referral to a specific cardiologist, or simply to ‘Dear Doctor’.

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Structural heart disease testing and diagnosis

To diagnose a structural heart problem, your doctor or heart specialist will ask about your symptoms and how they affect your everyday life. They might also suggest some tests.

Blood tests

Blood tests can measure the levels of substances that can affect the health of your heart and blood vessels (such as blood sugar, cholesterol and fats).

Physical examination

Your doctor will check your blood pressure and heart rate and listen to your heart with a stethoscope.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

This test measures the heart’s electrical activity and allows doctors to check for an irregular heart rhythm.

Echocardiogram (heart ultrasound)

This test uses sound waves to get a picture of your heart. It allows doctors to see the heart’s valves and chambers and check how well your heart is pumping.

Chest x-ray or CT scan

X-ray or CT images of the heart and blood vessels can detect structural problems.

Structural heart disease treatment

There are various ways to manage structural heart disease. Your doctor will recommend treatment based on the type of structural heart problem you have and factors like your age, general health, lifestyle and preferences.

Non-surgical (conservative) treatment for structural heart problems

Medications – your doctor might prescribe medications to help manage the symptoms of your condition.

Lifestyle strategies – if you’re living with structural heart disease, it can help to look after your heart health. Your doctor might advise you to:

  • have regular check-ups
  • reduce your alcohol intake
  • get or stay physically active
  • manage other health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure
  • know when to get urgent medical help.

Surgery for structural heart problems

If a structural heart condition is preventing your heart from pumping blood around your body effectively, your doctor might recommend surgery to correct it. Procedures used to treat structural heart disease include:

Valve repair or replacement – severely narrowed or leaking valves can be surgically repaired or replaced. This procedure might involve traditional open heart surgery or a less invasive surgery using small cuts on the side of the chest. It can sometimes be done as a minimally invasive procedure using a thin tube to access the heart from an artery in your leg.

MitraClips (TMVR) – this procedure involves repairing a leaky valve using a special clip that helps the valve close, reducing backflow of blood. This can be performed as a minimally invasively procedure.

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) – this is a minimally invasive procedure that involves replacing the aortic valve which is narrowed and helps improve forward flow to the body.

Congenital heart disease procedures – surgery might be advised to close heart defects such as a patent foramen ovale or an atrial septal defect. These procedures can often be performed using minimally invasive techniques.


Your recovery time will depend on which procedure you have, along with factors like your age, general health, and lifestyle. If you have a procedure that doesn’t require a general anaesthetic, you can often go home the same day. Recovery from an open-heart surgery could take several months.

You might benefit from rehabilitation to help you get stronger and return to activities like work, sport and driving. Other health professionals, such as physios, dietitians and exercise physiologists, might support your recovery and help you build habits that promote heart health.

Your heart specialist can discuss how long it could take to recover from your procedure.









Reviewed by Dr Peter Fahmy, Interventional Cardiologist at Norwest private Hospital.



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