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05/27/2009 at 11:00 AM EDT
's Kelly Taylor, Jennie Garth has learned a thing or two about matters of the heart.
But cardiovascular health, not romance, is the actress's real-life concern.
"I've been affected by heart disease practically my whole life," Garth, 37, tells Access Hollywood
. "My father has struggled with heart disease since he was 50 and I lost him a year ago."
(Garth told PEOPLE
that her father's death, coupled with her 5-year-old daughter Lola's battle with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, made for "six months of hell" last year.)
The mother of three now reveals she has her own heart issue – a leaky valve – which was discovered seven years ago.
"A lot of people have it," she explains. "They don't know they have it ... [It] leaks blood."
Garth adds that she occasionally feels the leak itself. "It's your connection to your heart ... your artery, the main artery that goes to your heart," she says. "It sort of flutters open and shut sort of a thing ... It's weird because sometimes when I'm resting I can feel a little weird fluttering."
It's not a major health concern at this point, but she can't predict how it will affect her in the future.
"Down the road it's something that could get more complicated or it could not," she says. "People have had valve replacements and that kind of thing ... but I'm prepared, that's the key."