What is Valvular heart disease?
Valvular heart disease, or heart valve disease, is when there is damage and/or defects in one of the heart’s four valves: mitral, aortic, tricuspid, pulmonary. The mitral and aortic valves are the valves most common to have valvular heart disease.
These valves serve different functions. The mitral and tricuspid valves control the blood flow between the atria and the upper and lower chambers of the heart, which are known as the ventricles. The aortic valve controls blood flow between the heart and the aorta, and then to the blood vessels which extend throughout the entire body. The pulmonary valve controls the blood flow from the heart to the lungs.
When a heart valve is functioning properly, blood is flowing with the right amount of force in the correct direction at the exact time and pace that it needs to be. When a heart valve is damaged or malfunctioning, valves are unable to open or close fully due to becoming narrowed or stenotic (hardened). With diseased valves, blood can begin to move backward and back up in the adjacent heart chamber or leak back into the chamber it just left.
Since the heart is no longer functioning or pumping properly, the heart muscle itself will enlarge and thicken; it will lose its elasticity, and its efficiency. With the blood leakage and pooling, a person becomes at greater risk of developing a blood clot, having a stroke or a pulmonary embolism.
Factors That Contribute To Valvular Heart Disease
Since there are many types of valvular heart disease, there are many different causes. Some factors include: congenital heart disease, older age, rheumatic fever, high blood pressure, a heart attack, radiation therapy, bacterial endocarditis, radiation therapy, rheumatoid arthritis, and some medications like Methysergide.
Symptoms and their severity vary depending on the type of heart disease. With mild conditions, some people experience little to no symptoms, while serious cases of the disease could lead to congestive heart failure and other health issues.
Valvular Heart Disease Symptoms
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Swelling of the feet, ankles, hands, or abdomen
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Rapid weight gain
Treatment for valvular heart disease is dependent on the type of heart disease the patient is diagnosed with and the severity of the condition. For more mild cases, healthier diets and lifestyle choices (more exercise, less or no smoking) can help manage the condition. Also, for minor cases, the doctor will watch and wait to see if the condition worsens. Some patients are given medications (antibiotics, antithrombotics, or anticoagulants) depending on symptoms. For more serious cases, balloon dilatation (widens valve) or heart valve surgery will be performed to repair or replace the valve with an artificial or animal tissue. These days, many heart valve surgeries are minimally invasive, which allows for a shorter recovery period.