What is structural heart disease?

Structural heart disease is a general term used to describe conditions that involve damage to or flaws in the anatomy or structure of the heart. Common structural heart disease conditions include narrowed or leaking heart valves, and abnormal connections such as holes in the walls separating the heart chambers or vessels.

You may be born with structural heart disease or it may develop later in life. It’s important to note that it’s different from coronary heart disease, which is a result of plaque in the arteries.

“Structural heart disease isn’t necessarily caused by anything you do or don’t do,” Stephanie Younes, MD, FACC, FSCAI, interventional cardiologist with the ProMedica Structural Heart Clinic explains. “It may be something you are born with, or a result of degenerative disease, meaning wear and tear on the heart valves.” It can also be caused by infections of the heart valves or damage from previous heart attacks.


Some patients don’t experience any symptoms of structural heart disease in the early stages. Because of this, structural heart conditions are often discovered by accident, such as during a routine exam. However, if you do have symptoms, they may include shortness of breath, chest tightness, dizziness, fatigue, heart palpitations or flutters, coughing when laying down or swelling of the ankles.

If left untreated, structural heart disease can lead to damage to the heart and other organs or even heart failure.

Reducing Your Risk

Structural heart disease isn’t something you can prevent entirely. But there are a few things that you can do to lower your risk of developing the disease or stop the disease from progressing before heart damage occurs.

Most importantly, make sure that you are seeing your doctor for yearly physicals. “Whether it’s your primary care physician or your cardiologist, it’s important to see a doctor periodically,” Dr. Younes shares. Early recognition is key and helps avoid possible irreversible heart damage.

Eating a well-balanced diet that is low in sodium and exercising may also lower your risk of developing some forms of structural heart disease and accompanying coronary artery disease.

Treatment Options

If your doctor notices something abnormal during an exam or you are experiencing symptoms of structural heart disease, a series of tests will be performed. These tests may include an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart), CT scan, MRI or cardiac catheter of the heart.

Treatment of structural heart disease has been revolutionized over the past two decades,” Dr. Younes shares. “There’s a wide array of minimally invasive, percutaneous treatment options.” Interventional cardiologists are able to enter the heart through little arteries and veins accessed by small incisions. The incisions are about the size of a pen and often allow surgeons to avoid a more invasive procedure.

At ProMedica, the whole procedure is mapped out before a single incision is ever made. This is made possible by our advanced CT scanners. “The scanners produce a pristine and very detailed image of the heart. These images allow us to not only diagnose problems but also plan our procedures appropriately,” Dr. Younes shares.

Each case is then reviewed by our multidisciplinary team of image-reading specialists, interventional cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons. The team then works together to determine their best treatment plan.

“Whether your condition is something that you were born with or something that has developed and progressed over time, our job is to do our best to limit any heart damage and help you live the longest and fullest life that you can live,” Dr. Younes concludes.