Valvular Heart Disease

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Understanding the Heart

Your heart has four valves with tissue that flaps open and close in sync with the heartbeat. The flaps ensure a continuous flow of blood through the four chambers of the heart and other parts of the body. Valvular heart disease occurs if one or more of these valves do not work very well.

Infection, advancing age, or other conditions may not allow the flaps to open completely or may adversely affect how blood travels back to the heart chambers. As a result, your heart may be unable to pump blood properly.

Three Types of Heart Valve Issues

  • Stenosis: which occurs when the flaps of a valve become thick and the valve opening becomes narrow, restricting blood flow. 
  • Prolapse: occurs when the valve flaps slip backward loosely or do not close properly.
  • Regurgitation: where the valve doesn’t close tightly, causing blood to leak back into the chambers rather than flowing through the heart. 

Heart valve disease can increase the demand on your heart, causing it to enlarge and potentially leading to heart failure. Heart failure is when the heart is unable to pump an adequate supply of blood to the body, disrupting all major body functions. 

Causes

When heart valve disease is present at birth, it is known as congenital heart valve disease. Here, the valves may not be the right shape or size or lack enough tissue flaps. It isn’t clear what causes the disease at birth, and it can occur with other congenital heart defects.

Heart valve disease can be acquired later in life. Causes include advancing age, radiation therapy, and infective endocarditis (when bacteria originating in the mouth enters the bloodstream and infects the heart valves).

Other Factors

  • Metabolic disorders such as high blood cholesterol
  • Atherosclerosis or plaque formation in the inner walls of arteries
  • Damage to the heart muscle from a heart attack 
  • Tumor in the heart
  • Certain medications, including appetite suppressants

Symptoms

Heart murmurs are a telling sign of heart valve disease, the whooshing or swishing sound heard when blood flows abnormally across the heart valve. Heart murmurs can be harmless, so it is important that you have this symptom checked out, especially if you’re also experiencing one or more other signs of heart valve disease namely:

  • Unusual tiredness
  • Shortness of breath when lying down or after a physical activity
  • Swelling in your abdomen, legs, feet, ankles, and the veins of your neck. 
  • Dizziness and fainting

Heart valve disease can worsen with time, and symptoms are not evident until it has caused a significant reduction in blood flow. Signs of heart valve disease become apparent at the onset of middle age or old age. 

Living with Heart Valve Disease

Although a lifelong condition, heart valve disease does not cause symptoms in some people and may not progress with age. Because it can worsen over the years, leading to heart failure and other life-threatening conditions, valve repair or replacement may become inevitable later in life if not checked. 

Ongoing care is recommended, and immediate consultation is necessary if you experience new symptoms or your existing symptoms worsen.

As chronic heart conditions affect your body’s ability to fight infections, flu and pneumonia vaccinations can offer protection. Mild heart valve disease during pregnancy is manageable with medicines and bed rest. Severe valvular heart disease may pose labor or pregnancy risks. If you’re planning to start a family, make sure you discuss treatment options with your doctor. 

Our Approach

Methods of Diagnosis

  • Echocardiography, the main test to diagnose valvular heart disease
  • Physical examination, done with a stethoscope to check for heart murmurs. Your doctor will also check for fluid buildup in your lungs and swollen areas of your body.
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Chest X-ray
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Stress test
  • Cardiac MRI

Treatment

A mild form of valvular heart disease may not require treatment. If symptomatic, medications such as blood thinners, diuretics, or antiarrhythmics may be prescribed. Severe forms of the disease may necessitate heart valve surgery to repair or replace faulty valves. Your doctor will take this call after considering your age and general health. 

Along with medicines, lifestyle changes can address symptoms effectively and delay heart problems for many years. Giving up smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, leading an active lifestyle, eating heart-healthy food, reducing alcohol intake, and managing stress can be beneficial. 

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