Our heart has four valves, aortic valve, mitral valve, pulmonary valve, and tricuspid valve. Heart valve disease occurs when these valves do not work the way they should. Heart valves lie at the end of your heart chambers which maintain a single way of blood flow through your heart. These four valves are vital and let the blood flow maintain in a forward direction avoiding the backward leakage.
Mitral valve prolapse is also termed as floppy valve syndrome. This occurs when the mitral valve closes partially allowing the backward flow of blood into the left atrium. This condition does not show up any symptoms in most of the people and it does not require treatment as well. If you experience any symptoms such as a sharp chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, then you may need treatment. The treatment involves mitral valve replacement or repair.
Aortic valve usually has three flaps. But when there are two flaps by birth, it is referred to as bicuspid aortic valve disease. The symptoms may not be prominent until years, so, many cases are not diagnosed until adulthood. The symptoms may include, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, chest pain, fainting. Surgery to repair or aortic valve replacement is considered as the best treatment option for treating the aortic valve disease.
Heart valve stenosis is a result of stiffening and thickening of the valves. This condition occurs when the valve is unable to receive sufficient blood flow. You may feel severe chest pain, fatigue, and difficulty in breathing.
Depending on the severity, you may or may not require treatment. Treatment includes repair or replacement of the valve. Your doctor may also recommend a valvuloplasty based on the severity or your age.
Valvular regurgitation is also called “leaky valve disease.” In this condition, the heart valve does not close properly and causes the blood to flow in opposite direction. You may have swelling in the feet and ankles. Symptoms that can also be observed are lightheadedness, heart palpitations, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
Your doctor may recommend few medications to prevent the fluid accumulation. You may also need valve repair or replacement depending on the severity of the condition.
Causes of heart valve disease include a birth defect, a history of heart attack, sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, inflammatory diseases such as rheumatic fever, degenerative disorders such as cardiomyopathy, and inflammation of the heart tissue called infective endocarditis.
You may not experience any symptoms of heart valve problems if the condition is mild to moderate. However, in case of severe heart valve disease you may experience symptoms such as:
When you approach your doctor with the symptoms of heart valve disease, the first thing he does is auscultation of the pulse. This helps your doctor to indicate the abnormalities in the heart rate. Your doctor may also listen to the lungs to check if there are any signs of fluid accumulation.
Other tests that are useful in the diagnosis of heart valve disease include:
Electrocardiogram (ECG): This test helps your doctor to find out any abnormalities in your heart rhythm or electrical activity of the heart. It also creates the pictures of heart’s valves and chambers.
Cardiac Catheterization: This test involves passing a catheter into the heart mostly from groin region or arm. It helps your doctor to understand the severity and type of the valve disorder.
Chest X-ray: Chest X-ray helps your doctor to understand if there is any enlargement of your heart (cardiomegaly).
MRI scan: (Magnetic resonance imaging test) helps your doctor to view the detailed picture of your heart. It helps to confirm the disease and allows your doctor to choose the best possible treatment. Your doctor may order a stress test which can help in determining the severity of symptoms upon exertion or stress.
The treatment goal for heart valve disease is always based on the type of the valve affected and on the severity of your symptoms:
If the tests suggest that the heart valve disease is mild to moderate, then your doctor would advise for few lifestyle modifications and may suggest for regular medical checkups for monitoring the condition.
Your heart valve disease cannot be corrected with the help of drugs. But, the drugs may be helpful in reducing your heart’s work load and in regulating the heart’s rhythm. Fewer times it can be helpful in slowing the progression of the heart valve disease.
In the case of valvular stenosis, your doctor would recommend balloon valvuloplasty for treating the narrowed valve. This procedure requires insertion of a long tube (catheter) which has ballooned in its tip. This tube is entered into the heart through the groin region or your arm. The balloon is inflated once it reaches the valve.
Your doctor would recommend a heart valve surgery if the disease is so severe. This involves repair or replacement of the affected valve. This surgery can be minimally invasive and requires a smaller incision.
A regular follow-up is required for monitoring the changes in your heart valves. This helps to correct or repair the condition before it transforms to irreversible damage.