Heart valve disease is a condition that affects the function of the heart’s four valves: the mitral valve, tricuspid valve, pulmonary valve and aortic valve. These valves open and close with each heartbeat to ensure that blood flows in the right direction, preventing backflow. Heart valves help control blood flow between different chambers of the heart and major blood vessels.
When the heart valves function incorrectly, it can lead to complications including regurgitation, stenosis and atresia. Regurgitation occurs when the valve doesn’t close properly and blood leaks back into the heart chambers. Stenosis is a condition that prevents the heart valve from fully opening and atresia happens if there is no opening in the heart valve for blood to flow through.
Common forms of valvular heart disease include conditions like mitral valve prolapse, mitral valve stenosis and aortic valve stenosis.
- Mitral Valve Prolapse: This heart valve disorder is characterized by the abnormal movement of the mitral valve during the cardiac cycle. The mitral valve is located between the left atrium and left ventricle. It is responsible for regulating blood flow during the relaxation phase of the cardiac cycle. In this condition, the valve does not close properly and bulges into the left atrium when the heart contracts.
- Mitral Stenosis: This condition is caused when the mitral valve, which controls blood flow between the left atrium and the left ventricle, becomes narrowed and obstructs blood flow. This condition is often caused by rheumatic fever. Symptoms may include fatigue, shortness of breath and irregular heartbeats.
- Aortic Stenosis: This occurs when the aortic valve, which regulates blood flow from the left ventricle to aorta, becomes narrowed or partially blocked. This can restrict blood flow from the heart and can lead to symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath and fainting.
Coronary artery disease, a condition in which the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked, can also increase the risk of heart valve disease. When the coronary arteries are affected, the heart muscle may not receive enough oxygen and nutrients, potentially causing long term damage. Connective tissue disorders can also affect the structure and function of heart valves, leading to heart murmurs or abnormal heart rhythms.
It is crucial to manage the risk factors associated with this disease, such as high blood pressure, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. Rheumatic fever, a complication of untreated strep throat, is a significant risk factor.
Some other heart valve disease risk factors include:
- A history of previous heart conditions, especially heart inflammation, rheumatic fever, heart attack, or heart failure
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Lack of physical activity
- Family history
Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease
Heart valve disease can manifest in various ways depending on the severity and the affected valve. In some cases, patients may be asymptomatic, particularly in the early stages. As the disease progresses, symptoms may become more apparent.
One of the main symptoms of heart valve disease is an unusual heartbeat called a heart murmur. Other symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, abnormal heart rhythms and swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, veins and neck.
In severe cases, heart valve disease can cause blood clots to form in the heart, leading to heart failure. This is a life-threatening condition where the heart is unable to pump blood effectively to the rest of the body.
Detection and Diagnosis
If you have any concerning symptoms related to your heart or if you are at risk for heart valve disease, seek medical attention promptly. Early detection and management are crucial for preventing complications and improving outcomes. A qualified healthcare professional can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment based on your individual condition and test results.
Diagnostic tests may include:
- Cardiac catheterization: This may be used to evaluate the severity of heart valve disease and assess the need for surgical intervention. During this procedure, a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel and guided to the heart to measure pressure.
- Exercise stress test: In some cases, this test may be performed to assess how the heart valves respond to physical activity and stress.
- Echocardiogram: This test records the electrical activity of the heart. It can detect arrhythmias or changes in the heart’s rhythm that may be associated with heart valve disease.
- Chest X-ray: A chest X-ray may provide additional information about the size and shape of the heart and may reveal signs of heart valve disease, such as enlargement of the heart chambers.
Heart Valve Disease Treatment
Treatment varies depending on the type of heart valve disease you have. Options range from medication and lifestyle changes to surgical interventions like heart valve repair or heart valve replacement. Other times, heart valve surgeries such as Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR), Valvuloplasty or MitraClip may be needed.