The heart valve disorder, known as mitral regurgitation, was believed to be a natural condition linked to ageing.
But, researchers found it was linked to high blood pressure in earlier life.
The findings could open the door to future treatments for the condition.
Mitral regurgitation is a condition where blood flows the wrong way in the heart, as one of the valves doesn’t close properly.
Researchers are now looking at ways to tackle mitral regurgitation.
Understanding the condition’s cause makes it easier to find a treatment, they said.
Lead author of the research, Professor Kazem Rahimi, said: “With worldwide ageing and population growth, we are likely to see an increasing number of cases of this condition.
“We need to find effective and affordable measures to tackle it, and our study suggests one possible avenue for prevention, by reducing high blood pressure.”
The findings were likely to have significant implications for medical policy around the world, said Rahimi.
Mitral regurgitation wasn’t an inevitable consequence of ageing, and may be preventable, Rahimi added.
Before this study, scientists believed mitral regurgitation was a degenerative condition, caused by simple wear and tear of the heart valve over time.
This meant medical practitioners had been focusing on treatments to repair the valve, rather than preventing the valve from degrading in the first place.
Peter Williams, 59, had surgery in 2016 to repair his mitral valve.
“I’ve always been an active person, but it slowed me down a lot,” he said.
“I was tired and short of breath, and struggling to walk distances that wouldn’t normally have bothered me.
“My breathing was so noisy at night that it actually woke me up.”