The heart is considered a crucial organ, responsible for the blood circulation throughout the body. The valves in the heart keep blood flowing in the right direction. When there is a problem with the valves in the heart, it impacts the blood circulation process. The risks of heart valve disease include aging, a history of heart infections, heart disease or heart attack. As a person ages, the flexibility and shape of the valves change and there are chances of the thickening or stiffening of the valves.
Congenital heart disease often results in heart valve problems. The risk factors for other heart diseases such as a family history of early-onset of heart diseases, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes also increase the risk of heart valve diseases. Survivors of childhood cancer who had been administered radiation to the chest area are at a higher risk. A person suffering from an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus also has a higher risk of heart valve disease.
Warning Signs & Symptoms
There is a chance of heart valve disease under these three circumstances. When the heart valve flaps or leaflets do not close properly they can cause a backflow of blood into the heart. This is called regurgitation and is often caused by flaps that are prolapsed (bulging back). Thick or stiff valves can sometimes fuse together and cause valve stenosis. This makes the valve opening narrower and reduces the blood flow through the valve. When the heart valves have not formed at all, it is called atresia. This condition blocks the flow of blood within the chambers of the heart.
Heart valve diseases do not always show symptoms during the early stages of the problem. Common signs and symptoms of heart valve disease include:
Shortness of breath
People with heart valve problems can experience shortness of breath when they lie down or after an activity.
Fatigue, tiredness or weakness that is unusual and has no other causes could be a sign of heart valve problems. This is a symptom that can go on for days. People with heart valve problems find it difficult to maintain their normal levels of activity and work.
Palpitations Or Unusual Heartbeat
Experiencing a heart murmur, palpitations or an unusual heartbeat is a symptom of a heart valve problem.
Lightheadedness Or Fainting
People with aortic or mitral valve stenosis often experience dizziness and fainting spells.
Swollen Ankles, Feet Or Stomach
Valve problems cause problems with circulation and this leads to inefficient blood flow and swelling. These symptoms could also be signs of other heart-related problems.
Diagnosis & Treatment Options
In an ECG, test wires are attached to the patient’s chest to study the electrical signals from the heart. An ECG can show signs of abnormal heart rhythms, heart disease as well as enlarged chambers.
Echocardiography uses sound waves to produce a video image of the heart and study the blood flow as well as the physical structure of the heart and its components. Some doctors also use a 3D echocardiogram. To get an even clearer picture of the heart valves, a small transducer may be inserted into the esophagus through the mouth.
Certain types of heart valve diseases cause enlargement of the heart and this can be detected through a chest X-Ray. This also helps the doctor to analyse the lungs’ health.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
MRI uses magnetic fields to get detailed images of the body. A Cardiac MRI is used to get a clear picture of the heart. It can be used to study the function of the heart chambers and assess the severity of the condition.
Doctors will measure the ability to perform a mildly strenuous physical activity by administering stress tests. They will then study the effect of this on the heart.
This test is very rarely used to diagnose any heart valve diseases but can be used when other methods fail to provide a clear picture. A thin tube called a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel in the arm or the groin through which a dye is injected to make the arteries easily visible on an X-Ray which is then studied. This method can also give information about the pressure inside the heart chambers.
Recovery & Healthy Lifestyle Goals
The treatment of heart valve problems depends on the severity of the condition. The doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes as well as medication. One may be advised to avoid strenuous activity. Heart valve surgery may be recommended for the faulty valve. This surgery may be combined with any other heart surgery that you might require. One would have to maintain a healthy lifestyle even after surgery to ensure good heart health.