BackgroundRisk factors for developing heart valve and ascending aortic disease are based mainly on retrospective data. To elucidate these factors in a prospective manner, we have performed a nested case–referent study using data from large, population‐based surveys.Methods and ResultsA total of 777 patients operated for heart valve disease or disease of the ascending aorta had previously participated in population‐based health surveys in Northern Sweden. Median time (interquartile range) from survey to surgery was 10.5 (9.0) years. Primary indications for surgery were aortic stenosis (41%), aortic regurgitation (12%), mitral regurgitation (23%), and dilatation/dissection of the ascending aorta (17%). For each case, referents were allocated, matched for age, sex, and geographical area. In multivariable models, surgery for aortic stenosis was predicted by hypertension, high cholesterol levels, diabetes mellitus, and active smoking. Surgery for aortic regurgitation was associated with a low cholesterol level, whereas a high cholesterol level predicted surgery for mitral regurgitation. Hypertension, blood pressure, and previous smoking predicted surgery for disease of the ascending aorta whereas diabetes mellitus was associated with reduced risk. After exclusion of cases with coronary atherosclerosis, only the inverse associations between cholesterol and aortic regurgitation and between diabetes mellitus and disease of the ascending aorta remained.ConclusionsThis is the first truly prospective study of traditional cardiovascular risk factors and their association with valvular heart disease and disease of the ascending aorta. We confirm the strong association between traditional risk factors and aortic stenosis, but only in patients with concomitant coronary artery disease. In isolated valvular heart disease, the impact of traditional risk factors is varying.