You’ve been told you have heart valve disease. What does that mean? Can it be treated? Heart valve disease is a disorder that occurs when there is a problem with the function of one or more of your heart’s four valves. Understanding how your heart valves function will help you detect potential problems with your heart sooner rather than later.
Your heart valves prevent the backward flow of blood as it is pumped into and out of your heart. They act as a one-way inlet of blood on one side of a ventricle and a one-way outlet of blood on the other side of a ventricle. As the heart muscle contracts and relaxes, the valves open and close, letting blood flow into the ventricles and out to the body at alternate times.
According to the American Heart Association, approximately 5 million Americans are diagnosed with heart valve disorders each year. Heart valve disorders usually arise from two main types of malfunctions:
Heart valves can develop both regurgitation and stenosis at the same time and more than one heart valve can be affected simultaneously. When heart valves fail to open and close properly, the implications for the heart can be serious, possibly hampering the heart's ability to pump blood adequately through the body. Heart valve problems are one cause of heart failure. The mitral and aortic valves are most often affected by heart valve disease.
These malfunctions can be caused by a variety of reasons. The causes of heart valve damage vary depending on the type of disease present, and may include the following:
Symptoms of heart valve disease can vary and may resemble other medical conditions and problems. In some cases, mild heart valve disease may not present any symptoms. The most common symptoms include:
Heart valve disease can be detected by your doctor if your heart sounds heard through a stethoscope are abnormal. This is typically the first step in diagnosing your heart valve disease. A heart murmur can often indicate valve regurgitation or stenosis. To further diagnose your specific heart valve condition and the extent of valve damage, your doctor may use one of the following tests:
Your doctor will evaluate your individual symptoms and recommend the appropriate diagnostics to come up with the best treatment plan for you.
Heart valve diseases are treated differently according to your individual health history and diagnosis. Today, minimally invasive surgery between the ribs and less-invasive catheter-based procedures have replaced traditional surgery for the majority of patients. At the UPMC Pinnacle Heart and Vascular Institute, our heart specialists have been instrumental in early groundbreaking clinical trials, which lead to these advances. We continue to be invited to participate in leading edge trials.
Heart valve diseases are diagnosed, treated and monitored through collaboration of your primary care provider, cardiologist and surgeon. It is important that you schedule regular follow-up appointments with your primary care provider or cardiologist to make sure that your heart valves are working properly.
To help prevent heart conditions, including heart valve disease, your doctor may recommend heart-healthy lifestyle changes, including:
If your family has a history of heart disease, talk to your doctor about steps you can take to reduce your risk. Learn more about heart health.
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