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Heart Valve Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, And Prevention

Heart Valve Disease (a. k. a: Valvular Heart Disease) is a condition, where the damage occurs to one or more heart valves that restrict the flow of blood through the heart. The heart has four chambers, and the valves lie at the exit of the chambers. These valves always direct the blood flow in the forward direction and prevent the backward leakage of blood.

Heart valve disease

In some cases, the heart valves don’t open or close properly, leading to the disruption in the blood flow to the body. Each year 5 million Americans are diagnosed with valvular heart disease.

What is Heart Valve Disease?

Heart valve disease is a medical condition that relates to several disorders of the heart valve. There are total four valves present in the heart. If the damage occurs to one or more valves of the heart, an obstruction to the blood flow through the valves to the body can be seen, leading to heart diseases.

Types of Heart Valve Disease:

The different types of heart valve disease include:

1. Valvular Stenosis:

This condition occurs when the heart valve openings are stiff, hardened and narrowed that doesn’t allow the blood to flow through it. Valvular stenosis can cause stress on the heart to pump blood through narrowed openings leading to heart failure. All the four valves of the heart can be stenotic, such as tricuspid stenosis, mitral stenosis, aortic stenosis and pulmonic stenosis.

2. Valvular Insufficiency:

This condition occurs when the valve doesn’t close, seal or tight properly that leads to the backward leakage of the blood from the valves. The heart needs to work hard in order to compensate for the affected valve that leads to decreased blood flow throughout the body. This condition is also called as regurgitation, incompetence and leaky valve. Depending on the affected valve, the conditions are called as tricuspid regurgitation, mitral regurgitation, aortic regurgitation and pulmonary regurgitation.

What are the Causes of Heart Valve Disease?

Heart valve disease can be congenital or acquired during lifetime, and sometimes the exact cause is not known:

  • Congenital Valve Disease: It mostly affects aortic and pulmonic valve. There may be an error in the size of the valve, malformation in leaflet or leaflet is not in connection with the annulus.
  • Bicuspid Aortic valve Disease: This is congenital valve disease affecting aortic valve. It has two cusps, instead of three leaflets, leading to stiff and a leaky valve.
  • Acquired Valve Disease: This condition can be acquired at any time in life. The disease is due to the variety of infections or other diseases including rheumatic fever and endocarditis.
  • Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP): It affects around 1 to 2% of the population. It is a common condition, causing the tissue of the valves to become stretchy or leaky.
  • Other Causes of Valve Disease Include: Coronary artery disease, heart attack, cardiomyopathy, syphilis, high blood pressure, and some drugs and radiations.

Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease:

The signs and symptoms of heart valve disease include:

  • Shortness of breath, when a person is active or lies down
  • Abnormal sound (heart murmur) when a doctor listens to the heart
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Discomfort in chest
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Swelling of the ankle, feet and abdomen
  • Fatigue (lethargy)

Risk Factors:

Some of the risk factors of heart valve disease are:

  • Congenital heart diseases (at birth)
  • High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
  • History of heart diseases and heart attacks
  • History of certain infections
  • Older age

What are the Complications of Heart Valve Disease?

Heart valve disease can cause several complications, which include:

How to Diagnose Heart Valve Disease?

The diagnosis of heart valve disease involves an evaluation of the signs and symptoms of the disease, conducting a physical examination, and ordering other tests.

During a physical examination, a doctor will listen to the heart rhythm (valves opening and closing sound). The doctor will also listen to the lungs, to determine fluid retention,  and to check if the circulation of blood is proper or not.

After getting clues about the heart condition, a doctor may order other tests, which includes:

  • Echocardiography
  • Transesophageal echocardiography
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Cardiac catheterisation (angiogram)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Chest X-ray
  • Radionuclide scans
  • Exercise test or stress test

What is the Treatment for Heart Valve Disease?

The treatment for this condition depends on the type and severity of the disease. For treating the valve disease, three goals should be achieved, i.e., protection of the valve from further damage, lessening the symptoms, and replacing and repairing the valve.

Protecting the Valve from Further Damage:

The people suffering from any valves disease, and who had undergone surgery to replace and repair the damaged valve, are at risk of developing endocarditis. To get protection, should seek medical help and follow the instructions of a doctor.

Lessening the Symptoms:

The doctor may prescribe certain medications to reduce the symptoms and further damage. Medications may include:

Diuretics (water pills), vasodilators, anti-arrhythmic medications, ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and anticoagulants (blood thinners).

Repair and Replacement of the Valve:

For repairing and replacing any damaged valve, surgery is an option. Surgery helps to detect the extent, type and location of the valve’s disease. The traditional heart surgery or minimal invasive surgery, are the procedures followed for repairing and replacing valves. Percutaneous balloon valvotomy is another procedure.

What are the Preventive Methods for Heart Valve Disease?

Heart valve disease, if congenital, cannot be prevented. However, acquired valvular heart disease can be prevented by following certain measures:

  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Managing stress
  • Avoiding tobacco
  • Taking medications as prescribed
  • Staying active

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