Heart valve disease is often connected to other heart conditions such as high blood pressure or coronary artery disease. Here is what you need to know about the common symptoms associated with this health issue, its causes, and how it is treated.
Heart valve disease is a potentially severe health condition that affects five millions of Americans each year. This condition is characterized by the heart valves’ inability to work properly and can result in heart failure if it is left untreated.
Symptoms Of Heart Valve Disease
This health condition can affect any of the four valves in the heart. Blood enters the heart by going through the tricuspid and mitral valves. Once the two lower chambers of the heart are full, these valves close and blood can go through the pulmonary and aortic valves to enter the upper chambers of the heart.
If one of these valves stop working properly, your heart will compensate by convulsing harder, and you might also experience leakage, or blood flowing backward.
A heart murmur is one of the most common symptoms for this condition. A doctor can hear an abnormal heartbeat, also called a murmur while listening to your heart. This is often the first symptom that indicates someone might be suffering from a heart valve problem.
Some patients can feel their irregular heartbeat and experience other symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath. In some cases, this condition causes dizziness and swelling of the ankles and feet.
Other patients also gain weight at a fast pace and experience discomfort in the chest area. A heart valve problem can cause shortness of breath and discomfort that are made worse by cold air.
If you have any of these symptoms, it is best to see a cardiologist to do some tests and get a proper diagnosis. Symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and swelling are often ignored because they are associated with aging and can be caused by different health conditions.
What Causes Heart Valve Disease?
There are different possible causes for heart valve disease. There are different types of heart valve problems, and different causes are linked to different issues.
In some cases, heart valve problems are congenital. They are often not detected until later in life but are present since birth.
The aortic and pulmonary valve can be malformed at birth. The leaflets on these valves can have an unusual size or shape. Bicuspid aortic valve disease is a fairly common type of congenital heart valve problem that causes the aortic valve to have two leaflets instead of three.
Valvular stenosis is another common type of heart valve damage. A patient with valvular stenosis will typically have stiff, damaged, or fused leaflets that prevent a heart valve from properly opening.
As a result, the heart will have to pump blood harder to get blood flow past the valve that can’t properly open.
Valvular insufficiency, sometimes called regurgitation or incompetence is a different type of heart valve damage. This condition prevents a heart valve from properly closing, which means blood can leak backward.
If there is a serious leak, the heart will pump harder to keep enough blood moving forward.
In some cases, heart valve tissues can stretch more than they should. This condition is called mitral valve prolapse. The mitral valve leaflets can enter the atrium when the heart beats without causing any problems. This usually doesn’t cause any symptoms and patients aren’t treated for this condition.
Who Is At Risk For Developing Heart Valve Disease?
Most cases of heart valve diseases are the result of an underlying health condition that resulted in damages to the heart valves. High blood pressure is a common underlying cause.
Some patients also suffer from heart valve problems after suffering from a heart attack. Coronary artery disease is another common cause. Old age and being at risk for heart disease makes you more likely to suffer from valvular stenosis or valvular insufficiency.
Certain types of infections can put you at risk. Rheumatic fever is a bacterial infection that progresses because it is left untreated for too long. It can result in inflammation that spreads to the heart.
Heart valve problems usually don’t appear until later in life. It is possible to contract a bacterial infection as a child and not see the effects on the heart valves until years later. Rheumatic fever isn’t a common underlying cause of heart problems since infections are usually treated with antibiotics before they can spread that far.
Endocarditis is another type of infection that can affect the heart valves. It spreads to the heart through blood and causes damages to the heart valves. It is possible to contract endocarditis during surgery or via drug use.
How Is Heart Valve Disease Treated?
The treatment for heart valve disease depends on how severe the condition is. Your doctor will monitor how the disease is progressing and adjust the treatment plan as needed.
It is possible to repair or replace a damaged heart valve via a surgical procedure. However, most patients only need to make changes to their lifestyle or to take medication to prevent the condition from progressing further.
How Is This Condition Diagnosed?
If your doctor detects a heart murmur or irregular heartbeat during a consultation, they will recommend that you get more tests done. It is impossible to pinpoint the origin of the heart murmur until more tests are done. If you suffer from other symptoms such as fatigue or dizziness, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor and bring up these symptoms.
You will need to see a cardiologist to get a proper diagnosis. This condition is usually diagnosed thanks to echocardiography.
In some cases, an electrocardiogram or some X-rays of your chest might be needed to determine what could be causing an irregular heartbeat or other symptoms. Echocardiography is the most reliable test since it uses ultrasound waves to detect how your heart is beating.
The technician who conducts this test will be able to see how blood is moving through your heart. If there is an issue with a heart valve, the echocardiography will show irregular blood flow through this valve.
If you are at risk for heart valve problems due to a history of heart attacks or because you have high blood pressure, your doctor will help you develop a plan to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption should be among your top priorities. You will also have to make a few changes to your diet.
A heart-healthy diet typically includes more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You will need to avoid foods rich in salt, sugar, and processed fats.
Losing weight can help lower blood pressure and reduce your risks of developing a heart condition. Your doctor will probably recommend that you exercise regularly. Keep in mind that a heart-healthy exercise plan is usually about staying active without increasing your heart rate significantly.
Managing your stress might also be necessary since experiencing stress on a regular basis can lead to high blood pressure and other heart problems.
There are no medications that will directly address heart valve problems. It isn’t possible to repair a damaged heart valve by taking a prescription medication.
However, medications will probably be part of your treatment plan since it is possible to regulate blood pressure and lower your risks of developing different heart conditions by taking certain treatments.
Your doctor might prescribe a medication to treat high blood pressure or manage cholesterol levels. Some treatments can help regular heartbeat and prevent your blood from clotting.
There is also medication that widens your blood vessels to improve circulation and lower the risks of complications caused by coronary heart disease.
Surgery is sometimes needed to repair or replace a damaged heart valve. Because this is an invasive procedure, doctors will take several factors into consideration to decide if surgery is the best option.
Patients will typically try an initial treatment plan for a while to see how their heart valve condition progresses. If medications and lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower risks, surgery might be needed.
The age of the patient plays an important part in determining if surgery is the best treatment for a heart valve problem. Open-heart surgery is needed to repair or replace a valve, and recovery takes time.
A surgeon can repair a damaged heart valve by removing tissues that have become stiff. In some cases, tissues can be reshaped. Leaflets that have fused together can be separated to get the heart valve working properly again.
If a heart valve can’t be repaired, a surgeon can replace it with a man-made valve or a biological valve. The downside of replacing a valve with a man-made device is that you will need to take blood-thinning medication for the rest of your life.
Your treatment plan will vary in function of how severe the problem is and how rapidly it is progressing. Many patients can live long and healthy lives by making changes to their diets and habits or by taking medication. You should get some tests done as early as possible if you suspect you have a heart valve problem since developing a treatment plan will be easier if you can get an early diagnosis.