Cardiac Valve Disease
When heart valves—which let blood flow into the ventricles and out to the body—malfunction, the heart’s pumping ability is impaired, which can lead to heart failure.
Types of Valve Disease
Heart valves malfunction in two ways—regurgitation and stenosis. In regurgitation, the valve’s flaps do not shut completely after they open, allowing some of the blood to flow back into the heart chamber. In stenosis, the valve opening becomes narrowed or stiff, inhibiting the flow of blood out of the ventricles or atria, forcing the heart to pump blood harder to move blood through the affected valve. The mitral valve—between the left atrium and left ventricle—and the aortic valve—between the left ventricle and the aorta—are most commonly affected by valve disease. One or both of them can have loose flaps, narrowed openings or both.
Causes of Valve Disease
Although some valve abnormalities are present at birth, most valve damage is a result of the following:
- Rheumatic fever
- Heart attack
- Infections, including syphilis
- Myxomatous degeneration, an inherited connective tissue disorder that weakens the heart valve tissue
Symptoms of Valve Disease
Mild heart valve disease may not cause any symptoms. When it does, symptoms may vary depending on the type of heart valve disease present and may include: chest pain, palpitations, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath.
Diagnosing Valve Disease
Heart valve disease may be suspected if the heart sounds heard through a stethoscope are abnormal. A characteristic heart murmur, due to turbulent blood flow across the valve, or a click can often indicate valve regurgitation or stenosis. To pinpoint the type and extent of valve damage, physicians may use the following:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
- Cardiac catheterization
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Treating Valve Disease
In some cases, the only treatment for heart valve disease may be careful medical supervision. However, other treatment options may include medication and surgery to repair or replace the valve. Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on your symptoms as well as the valve involved, extent of the disease, and your age and state of health. It may include one, or a combination of, the following:
- Medications such as beta-blockers, digoxin and calcium channel blockers reduce symptoms of heart valve disease by controlling the heart rate and atrial fibrillation.
- Medications to control blood pressure reduce stress on the valve. They include diuretics, which remove excess water from the body by increasing urine output, and vasodilators, which relax blood vessels.
- Heart valve repair: In some cases, surgery on the malfunctioning valve can help alleviate symptoms. Examples of heart valve repair surgery include cutting scarred flaps so they open more easily; remodeling valve tissue that has enlarged; or inserting prosthetic rings to help narrow a dilated valve. In many cases, heart valve repair is preferable, because a person’s own tissues are used.
- Heart valve replacement: When heart valves are severely malformed or destroyed, they may need to be replaced with a new mechanism. Replacement valve mechanisms fall into two categories: tissue (biologic) valves, which include animal valves and donated human aortic valves, and mechanical valves, which can be metal, plastic or another artificial material.
- Balloon valvuloplasty, a non-surgical procedure similar to coronary angioplasty that is often used to treat pulmonary stenosis and, increasingly, aortic stenosis. In this case, the catheter containing a deflated balloon is inserted into the narrowed heart valve, then the balloon is inflated, stretching the valve open.
Nutrition and Prevention
Reference these links for information on how to prevent heart disease and how to live a healthy lifestyle.
- Lifestyle Changes
- Healthy Diet
- Reduce Stress
- Stop Smoking
- Healthy Cholesterol Levels
- Reduce Sodium
Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011
Send Feedback To: BWH Women’s Health at firstname.lastname@example.org