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Valve Disease

Several things can go wrong with the heart’s valves.

  • A person can be born with a defective heart valve.
  • In approximately 4 to 5% of the general population, a valve wears out and begins to leak, or fails to open completely.

When a worn-out valve fails to close properly or leaks (prolapses), blood flows backward (regurgitates) and the heart must work harder to pump the same amount of blood.

Most often, it is the mitral valve that leaks.

  • Calcium deposits may harden and narrow a valve.

This narrowing (stenosis), keeps the valve from opening completely and reduces the amount of blood that can flow through it. The risk of blood clots increases and the heart has to work harder.

This type of problem generally affects the aortic valve.

  • Some types of infection may also lead to problems with a heart valve.

The bacteria that cause rheumatic fever can damage the heart, especially its valves, and an infection called bacterial endocarditis can deform or damage heart valves.

The symptoms of valve disease

A worn out or damaged heart valve can cause some or all of these symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired (fatigue) during exertion
  • A cough, especially a cough at night or when laying down
  • An irregular or abnormally fast heart beat (palpitations)
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Pain or tightness in the chest
  • Dizziness

Even a relatively insignificant leak in a valve can cause severe symptoms.

If you have symptoms, you may require surgery to repair or replace the diseased valve.

Sometimes there are no symptoms

Some people who have serious heart disease are not aware that there is a problem. Hidden symptoms may be uncovered when these people undergo an exercise test.

At this time, there is no specific medical treatment for patients who have not yet developed symptoms. Even if you are not yet aware of any symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery if you are diagnosed as having heart valve disease.

Tests your doctor may use to diagnosis valve disease

After discussing your symptoms and listening to your heart to check for a murmur, the doctor may use a number of different tests to “see” how it is working before diagnosing valve disease as the cause of your symptoms.

  • A chest x-ray can determine the size of your heart
  • An electrocardiogram (also called an ECG or EKG) can detect a problem with your heart’s rhythm and some problems with how the blood flows
  • An ultrasound test called an echocardiogram makes it possible to watch each heart valve, checking on its structure and thickness, as it opens and closes. Your doctor may order a special type of this test, called a transesophageal echocardiogram.
  • A special type of x-ray called a radionuclide scan, uses a “tracer” chemical to produce images of a specific organ, such as the heart.
  • The dye that is injected into the bloodstream during a cardiac catheterization allows the doctor to track the movement of blood and to detect other heart problems that could be causing your symptoms.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can produce detailed pictures of your heart and arteries and how they function.

Learn more about your heart valves and the surgical procedures to correct heart valve disease.

What a heart valve doesHeart Valve Surgery

Educational content provided by Edwards Lifesciences

Texas Surgical Associates