Heart Valve Diseases
The heart valves help give direction to the blood flow within the heart chambers. There are four heart valves in the heart. When these valves cease to function normally, it gives rise to many heart diseases. The following article will discuss some of these heart valve diseases and introduce you to some of the common symptoms that point towards any abnormality within the heart.
What is Heart Valve Disease?
There are two halves of the heart: left and right. These halves have two chambers each: the atrium and the ventricle. Between these chambers there are four valves situated that help the blood flow in one direction. These valves include the aortic, mitral, pulmonary and the tricuspid valve. When one of these valves fails to open or close properly, it leads to heart valve diseases. These heart valve diseases arise as a result of congenital abnormalities, infection of the heart due to rheumatic heart fever or endocarditisand lastly, due to old age.
When the heart valve fails to close properly, it is called as prolapse. This causes the heart to pump blood inefficiently. When the heart valves opening becomes narrow, it is called as stenosis. This causes reduction in the blood supply to the body.
If the pulmonary valve becomes narrow or develops complete or partial obstruction, it blocks the flow of blood. This is called as pulmonary valve stenosis. When the heart valves do not close properly, it may lead to back flow of the blood. This is called as regurgitation.
Types of Heart Valve Diseases
The different heart valve diseases include:
- Aortic valve disease
- Mitral valve disease
- Pulmonary valve disease
- Tricuspid valve disease
Aortic Valve Disease
The valve between the left ventricle and the aorta is called as aortic valve. The aortic valve disease can be congenital or acquired. The types of aortic valve disease include:
- Aortic stenosis: Narrowing of the opening of the aortic valve
- Aortic regurgitation: Aortic valve does not close properly leading to the backflow of blood.
Mitral Valve Diseases
The valve between the left atrium and ventricle is the mitral valve. Mitral valve diseases include:
- Mitral valve stenosis: Narrowing of the mitral valve opening.
- Mitral valve regurgitation: The cusps become weak and cause the blood to flow back into the left atrium from the left ventricle.
Pulmonary Valve Diseases
Pulmonary valve diseases are those that affect the pulmonary valve. This valve helps the blood flow in the proper direction into the lungs. The types of pulmonary valve diseases include:
- Pulmonary Regurgitation: Backflow of blood from the lungs into the heart due to a leaky valve.
- Pulmonary Stenosis: Narrowing of the pulmonary valve.
Tricuspid Valve Diseases
The valve between the right ventricle and right atrium is called the tricuspid valve. The types of diseases affected the tricuspid valve include:
- Tricuspid valve regurgitation: The valve fails to close properly leading to back flow of blood into the right atrium.
- Tricuspid valve stenosis: Narrowing of the tricuspid valve opening.
- Tricuspid atresia: This is a congenital condition where a tissue valve blocks the flow of blood between the atrium and ventricle.
- Ebstein’s anomaly: This is a malformation of the tricuspid valve, where the valve is present at a lower position than normal. Thus, causing the blood to flow back into the right atrium.
Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease
In some cases, the symptoms occur suddenly, when the condition turns severe. When the disease is developing, one rarely notices the symptoms as the heart starts adjusting to the changes. Some of the symptoms of heart valve disease include:
- Shortness of breath after any activity or lying down on the bed
- Heart palpitations and irregular heart beat
- Swelling of the ankles, feet and abdomen
- Unexplained weight gain
- Pressure and discomfort in the chest
- Angina (chest pain)
Causes of Heart Valve Diseases
There are different heart valve diseases that include congenital and acquired. Some of the causes include:
- Degeneration of the heart valve tissues with age
- Bacterial endocarditis affecting the heart muscles and valves
- Atherosclerosis damaging the aortic valve
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus, syphilis are conditions that can damage the heart valve
- Migraine medications such as methysergide can damage the valves
- A heart attack may damage the heart muscles and valves
- High blood pressure damages the valves
- Congenital heart diseases such as bicuspid aortic valve disease where instead of 3 normal cusps, the aortic valve has just two cusps
- Coronary heart disease, cardiomyopathy, aortic aneurysms, etc. can lead to mitral valve prolapse (MVP)
Heart valve diseases are diagnosed based on the physical symptoms and examination. A murmur sound heard through the stethoscope is very important in diagnosis of heart valve diseases. Other tests conducted to confirm heart valve problems include:
- Chest X-ray
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Cardiac catheterization
There are many treatment options for heart valve diseases. These options depend on the individual condition, age, general health and the severity of the disease. Some may be advised a combination of treatment and others suggested lifestyle changes. Treatment options include:
- Medicationssuch as diuretics to reduce the fluid buildup, ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure, digoxin to stabilize the heart rhythm and warfarin to reduce the risk of blood clots.
- Surgical procedures like valvuloplasty, annuloplasty, valulotomy and percutaneous mitral balloon valvotomy to repair the valve.
- Valve replacement surgeries to replace the badly damaged valves with the help of valves from human or animal donors called the bioprosthetic valves or tissue valves. In some mechanical valves are suggested, but the patient will have to use blood thinners all their lives. Mechanical valves are not recommended for women of childbearing age.
- Lifestyle changes like eating a low-sodium, low-fat, oil-free and junk food free diet. One may even have to keep their diabetes under control. Stay active, exercise regularly, limit alcohol intake and spend a smoke-free life to prevent and control heart valve diseases.
One should undergo regular health checkups to keep heart ailments at bay. If one is diagnosed with heart valve disease, they should speak to their doctor clearly regarding the severity and management of their condition. Heart valve disease is a lifelong condition. Some may suffer from many symptoms and some may live life without many health hiccups. Make sure you follow your doctor's advice and go for regular health checkups. This will prevent further deterioration of the heart valves and keep your condition in check.
Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 15, 2015