Screening for unrecognised heart valve disease

Being invited for heart valve disease screening

Screening for unrecognised heart valve disease is a new development in health care, which is currently only available in a few places in the UK as part of a research study. All the people we talked to were taking part in this research study, which is testing how practical it is to screen large numbers of the population, how many people are found to have the condition, and how mild or severe it is. Those who are then found to have the condition will be followed up. This is called a ‘cohort study’. (See also What is heart valve disease and why screening for it may help’). Fraser and Cathy both took part (Fraser chose not to be on video).
By definition people who have unrecognised heart valve disease do not know there is anything wrong, and so the researchers found people to take part by asking GPs to send an invitation letter to everyone in the right age group (over 65). Most people we talked to said they were happy to get the letter and pleased to respond. (However, we were not able to interview anyone who decided not to take part – see also ‘Reasons for taking part’).
In a few cases one person in the household was sent the letter but then somebody else turned out to be in the right age group too and was able to get involved.
Roy said he probably would not have gone for screening left to himself, as he does not think about his health much. (See ‘Feelings about screening and general health’). But Peg said, “I coerced him into going because we’re both getting on”. Although nearly everyone we talked to responded quickly to the letter, one person was a bit more anxious about it.
George explains that he was frightened about what might be found, even though in his case the results were normal. We were not able to talk to anyone who decided not to take part, but we know from other research that anxiety about getting a frightening diagnosis is a common reason for saying no to screening.
Anne said her husband did not want to take part, but this was partly because he already has heart tests for a different condition once a year, so he feels he is well monitored. (See also ‘Reasons for taking part’).
Because the study was working with specific GP practices, people often knew of neighbours who had been invited, including some who chose to take part and some who didn’t. Lech discovered his sister had got the letter too.

Lech talked to his sister about the research and quickly decided to take part. Others said they talked to a partner, or made the decision alone. Anne commented, ‘I made my own mind up. I did talk to my husband about it and he said, “That’s a good thing. Carry on.” He said, “It’s up to you”.’ 

Last reviewed August 2016.




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