The primary function of your heart is to collect blood and pump it to various parts of the body. There are structures, akin to a Gate, called Valves within the heart which ensures free and forward movement of blood. There are four valves in the heart called Aortic, Mitral, Tricuspid and Pulmonary. If a Valve does not function properly, it may not open wide enough, not close tightly enough or both. In any case there will not be enough forward movement of blood. Accordingly the valve problems can be broadly classified as:
Picture of Normal Heart Valves
Valve Stenosis – Inadequate opening of the valve, so that blood has to move through a small opening with difficulty.
Valve Regurgitation or Insufficiency – Inadequate closure of the valve resulting in leakage of blood.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HEART VALVE PROBLEMS?
You can have a heart valve problem for decades, yet have no symptoms. Sometimes the symptoms come on so slowly that you may barely notice them. In some cases the symptoms might appear suddenly. You might have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Tiredness, especially with activity or as the day goes on.
- Feeling dizzy, faint or light headed.
- Pain, pressure, tightness or numbness in your chest, neck, back or arms.
- Shortness of breath when you exert yourself, get stressed emotionally, or when in advanced cases, when you lie down.
- Waking up at night coughing or with shortness of breath.
- Coughing out streaks of blood.
- A fast, pounding or irregular heartbeat.
- A fluttering feeling in your chest.
- Swollen ankles, feet and / or tummy.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON CAUSES OF HEART VALVE PROBLEMS?
Men and women of any age can have heart valve problem. You may have a valve problem since birth. Or the valve might have worn out as you have aged. Sometimes it may not be possible to pin point the exact cause. Some of the common causes are:
- Defective valve since birth – Congenital, which however can manifest at any age.
- Rheumatic heart disease which is a consequence of some throat infections.
- Bacterial infections affecting the valves – endocarditis.
- Degeneration with age, along with deposition of calcium.
- Myxomatous valves, i.e., bulky valves, causing leakage.
- Coronary artery disease can also cause valve problems.
How are heart valve problems diagnosed?
Your doctor will begin with taking a thorough medical history. He will listen to your heart for a sound called Murmur which can occur with a problematic valve. You may need other tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Echocardiogram (2D Echo) or a Transesophageal echo (TEE).
How are heart valve problems treated?
Medical treatment – In the initial phase it may be possible to treat the problem with only medicines. When the problem worsens, some intervention will be required.
Balloon valvuloplasty – the stenosed or narrowed valve can be opened with the help of a balloon, without surgery.
Surgical treatment –
- Valve Repair – sometimes it is possible to repair a damaged valve.
- Valve Replacement – if the valve is badly damaged it may have to be replaced with an artificial valve which can be a mechanical or tissue valve.
Picture of Valve Replacement
Can you lead a normal life after surgery?
You can definitely lead a normal life after a valve surgery. You will have to visit your doctor regularly. You may have to take some medications and do tests at regular intervals.