Valvular Heart Disease

Valvular Heart Disease

Valvular heart disease is characterized by damage to or a defect in one of the four heart valves: the mitral, aortic, tricuspid or pulmonary.

The mitral and tricuspid valves control the flow of blood between the atria and the ventricles (the upper and lower chambers of the heart). The pulmonary valve controls the flow of blood from the heart to the lungs, and the aortic valve governs blood flow between the heart and the aorta, and thereby the blood vessels to the rest of the body. The mitral and aortic valves are the ones most frequently affected by valvular heart disease.

Symptoms :

Valve disease symptoms can occur suddenly, depending upon how quickly the disease develops. If it advances slowly, then your heart may adjust and you may not notice the onset of any symptoms easily. Additionally, the severity of the symptoms does not necessarily correlate to the severity of the valve disease. That is, you could have no symptoms at all, but have severe valve disease. Conversely, severe symptoms could arise from even a small valve leak.

Many of the symptoms are similar to those associated with congestive heart failure, such as shortness of breath and wheezing after limited physical exertion and swelling of the feet, ankles, hands or abdomen (edema). Other symptoms include:

  • Palpitations, chest pain (may be mild).
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness or fainting (with aortic stenosis).
  • Fever (with bacterial endocarditis).
  • Rapid weight gain.

Treatment:

The following provides an overview of the treatment options for valvular heart disease:

  • Don’t smoke; follow prevention tips for a heart-healthy lifestyle. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, excessive salt intake and diet pills—all of which may raise blood pressure.
  • Your doctor may adopt a “watch and wait” policy for mild or asymptomatic cases.
  • A course of antibiotics is prescribed prior to surgery or dental work for those with valvular heart disease, to prevent bacterial endocarditis.
  • Long-term antibiotic therapy is recommended to prevent a recurrence of streptococcal infection in those who have had rheumatic fever.
  • Antithrombotic (clot-preventing) medications such as aspirin or ticlopidine may be prescribed for those with valvular heart disease who have experienced unexplained transient ischemic attacks, also known as TIAs (see this disorder for more information).
  • More potent anticoagulants, such as warfarin, may be prescribed for those who have atrial fibrillation (a common complication of mitral valve disease) or who continue to experience TIAs despite initial treatment. Long-term administration of anticoagulants may be necessary following valve replacement surgery, because prosthetic valves are associated with a higher risk of blood clots.
  • Balloon dilatation (a surgical technique involving insertion into a blood vessel of a small balloon that is led via catheter to the narrowed site and then inflated) may be done to widen a stenotic valve.
  • Valve Surgery to repair or replace a damaged valve may be necessary. Replacement valves may be artificial (prosthetic valves) or made from animal tissue (bioprosthetic valves). The type of replacement valve selected depends on the patient’s age, condition, and the specific valve affected.
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