Heart Valve Disease Symptoms and Treatment

Heart valve disease refers to several conditions affecting the function of the valves of the heart. Without treatment, heart valve disease can significantly affect the quality of life and can lead to life-threatening complications. In many cases, diseases of the heart valves can be surgically repaired or replaced, allowing their normal function to be restored and be able return to normal activities. This in turn will allow treatment for heart valve disease to be a success.

There are four valves within the heart; they include: the mitral, aortic, tricuspid and pulmonic valves. The valves ensure that blood flows in one direction through the heart.

Heart valve disease occurs when your heart valves are not working adequately.

In valvular stenosis, the valve leaflets become stiffer as they thicken. This results in a
narrowing of the valve opening putting the heart under strain. This process occurs over a period of years, reduces the heart’s function and resulting in the suffering of symptoms.

In a regurgitant valve, the leaflets fail to close completely, allowing blood to flow
backwards through the valve. The heart is put under strain as it has to pump an increased volume of blood than it would normally have to. Over time, this results in a reduction in the heart’s function with the patient suffering from debilitating symptoms.

The symptoms of heart valve disease include:

  • Increasing shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Swelling of ankles, feet or abdomen
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Chest discomfort

A thorough physical examination is carried out and may reveal fluid in the lungs and legs and in some cases, an audible heart murmur.

Medical tests that may be used to assess for heart valve disease include:

  • Echocardiogram
  • Cardiac catheterisation
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Trans-oesophageal echocardiogram
  • Exercise stress echo

Tests may be repeated over time to assess the progress of disease and make a decision about treatment options.

Heart valve disease can be managed by:

  • Being aware of the vulnerability of your valve
  • Protecting your valve from further damage
  • Taking medications
  • Having surgery or invasive procedures
  • Seeing your heart doctor for regular visits

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