• Heart Valve Problems

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    The heart's valves regulate the direction and flow of the blood that replenishes the oxygen supply throughout your body. But when the valves are defective or don't work the way they should, it can put your heart and other organs at risk. Click here to go to a video that shows how the hearts valves are supposed to work and what can sometimes go wrong.

    While you go about your business each day, your heart is working hard behind the scenes to keep you alive and active. The heart is an amazing muscle that moves blood to and from the heart and lungs, and throughout your body, with the help of four valves (the tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral, and aortic) that open and close with each beat of your heart, controlling the direction of blood flow.

    Click here to learn more about the structure of the heart, its valves, and how they work.

    Unfortunately, even the most impressive structures, such as the heart, can have problems. Valves don’t always work the way they should. If a valve is not formed properly from birth (congenital valve disease) or if it is damaged at some point after birth from age or disease (acquired valve disease), then vital organs, such as the brain and kidneys, may not get the oxygen-rich blood they need to function. Heart valve disease (sometimes called valvular heart disease) can strain the heart, too. The heart has to work harder to compensate for the faulty valve, which can weaken the heart and increase the risk of heart failure (a condition where the heart doesn’t fill up with enough blood or pump enough blood to supply the body with the oxygen and nutrients that it needs) or sudden cardiac arrest (when the heart stops beating). A heart valve problem can also increase the risk of blood clots, which can cause stroke.
      Valve disease is sometimes referred to more generally as structural heart disease because valves are an important part of the make-up of the heart. The heart is a pump - a structure that needs valves to function properly -to keep blood flowing in the right direction.
      Sometimes people think valve disease is the same as coronary heart disease because valves and arteries are both involved in blood flow. Valves control blood flow through the heart; coronary arteries bring blood flow to the heart. But valve disease actually affects the structure and function of your heart. Valves are part of the heart - they keep blood flowing smoothly in the right direction. Heart disease, on the other hand, is a disease process that affects the heart. It refers to blockages or narrowing of the arteries - a process that over time restricts blood flow to the heart.

    Valve disease symptoms may be similar to symptoms of other serious medical conditions. One of the most common symptoms of valve disease, shortness of breath, can also be a symptom of a heart attack or a blood clot in the lung. If you think you might have a serious medical condition with your heart or lungs, don’t take a chance. 

    Call 911.

      Remember to tell your dentist and doctors about your heart valve disease. Certain procedures may increase your risk of a serious condition called endocarditis, an infection on the valves of the heart that can be prevented by taking antibiotics in advance.

    Recognizing a Valve Problem

    Some heart valve problems are never detected because they do not cause symptoms or affect the quality of your life in any significant way. But, according to the American Heart Association, about 5 million Americans each year learn that they have a heart valve problem.

    Valve problems often get worse after the symptoms start. If it turns out that your symptoms are signaling a valve problem, your doctor will want to see you on a regular basis to monitor your condition. If the problem becomes more severe, it may require treatment, such as medication, surgery, or other medical procedures to repair or replace the valve.

    Whether your valve problem was just diagnosed or if you have been monitoring it or treating it for some time, do your best to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as avoiding infection, taking your medications, eating right, and exercising. It may help you to feel better.

    Click here for more information on recommended lifestyle changes for people with valve disease.

    Getting Help

    If you have been diagnosed with a heart valve problem or you are concerned that you or someone in your family might have a heart valve problem, talk with your doctor. Ask questions. Download Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Heart Valve Problems and take it with you to your next appointment. You’ll also find a more detailed explanation of heart valve problems in each of the following articles on this site:

    • Symptoms. Some people with valve problems experience fatigue, chest pain, or shortness of breath, but others do not. In either case it is important to talk with your doctor about your valve problem and how it could affect your overall health. Learn more...
    • Types and Causes. Some people are born with one or more valves that didn’t form properly, while others develop a valve problem as they age. These problems usually occur when the valve’s tissue flaps or leaflets that regulate the flow of blood through the heart are not opening or closing the way they should.  Learn more…
    • Diagnosis. Your doctor will examine you, review your medical history, and recommend tests if he or she believes you might have a valve problem. Imaging technology is one of the most common tools for examining the heart and the valves. Learn more…
    • Treatment. Heart valve problems can be treated in many different ways. Lifestyle changes and medications may help manage symptoms from valve disease. For others, repair or replacement of the heart valves may be necessary. Learn more…
    • Resources and Support. If you have a valve problem it’s very important to get appropriate help and treatment. Online resources are available to help you understand valve disease and its treatment. Learn more…

    Work with your doctor to learn as much as you can about the nature and severity of your heart valve problem so that together you can make the best possible treatment decisions.

  • More about Heart Valve Problems

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    Diagnosing Heart Valve Problems

    If your doctor suspects that you have a heart valve problem, he or she will want to examine you further and possibly refer you to a cardiologist. To make the diagnosis, your doctor will do the following...

    Heart Valve Treatments

    New treatments for heart valve problems are always being developed. Several promising treatments are currently in the investigational stage but have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    Medications and Lifestyle Changes for Heart Valve Problems

    If you have a heart valve problem you can take steps in your daily life to minimize more problems in the future. Talk with your doctor to develop a plan for staying well that is tailored to your condition.

    MitraClip and Treating the Mitral Valve

    Researchers are also exploring two catheter-based approaches to repair the mitral valve. One innovative, less-invasive procedure for heart valve repair is called the MitraClip.

    Mitral Valve Regurgitation: Treating a Leaky Valve

    We all know that having a heart is critical to our survival, but have you ever stopped to think why? It’s because the heart pumps blood throughout the body—blood rich with the oxygen and nutrients that our bodies need to function. The heart has four valves that keep the blood flowing on a one-way path to where it needs to go. If a valve doesn’t close properly, blood can leak back into the heart, which is called regurgitation. The mitral valve is especially susceptible to this problem. If the leak is minor, you might never know it because the valve can still accomplish its job. But if the leaking becomes severe, the heart muscle has to work much harder to pump more blood, putting your heart and you at great risk.

    Physical Examination for Valve Disease

    Your family doctor or internist may be the first to suspect that you have a heart valve condition. He or she may detect a heart murmur while listening to your heartbeat through a stethoscope. A heart murmur is an extra or unusual sound heard when the heart beats. A murmur can be faint or it can create a noticeable whooshing noise. Heart murmurs are common - and most do not indicate a problem.

    Protecting Yourself from Endocarditis

    Endocardits is a very serious infection of the valves of the heart caused by bacteria or fungi. It doesn’t occur often, but when it does, it can cause serious damage to your valves and put your life at risk.

    Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Heart Valve Disease

    Use the following questions as a tool to help you talk to your physician about your heart valve disease. Print them out and take them with you to your next appointment. Take notes to help you remember your discussion when you get home.

    Resources and Support for People with Heart Valve Problems

    The following resources are provided to help you gather as much information as possible to understand your valve problem and your options for treatment.

    Surgery for Valve Problems

    If you have open-heart surgery to repair or replace a valve, you will receive a general anesthetic and your heart surgeon will make an incision the length of your breast bone to expose your heart. You will be connected to a heart-lung machine, which will take over your breathing and blood circulation during the surgery. The surgeon will stop your heart, make an incision to expose the valve, and either repair it or replace it by cutting out the old valve and sewing in the new one. Once this is complete, your breast bone will be sutured back together.

    Symptoms of Heart Valve Problems

    If you have heart valve disease, you may have no warning signs. Additionally, heart valve symptoms are not a reliable indicator of how serious your condition may be. You may have no symptoms but need prompt treatment. Or you may have severe symptoms, but your valve problem may be minor.

    Testing for Valve Disease

    Tests may be ordered to determine if your heart is working as it should. The following diagnostic tests are among those used to detect heart valve disease...

    Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR)

    Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), is a new procedure that was recently approved for some patients. It is used to replace a patient’s aortic heart valve without open-heart surgery. Instead of opening the chest, a flexible tube called a catheter is used to access the faulty valve.

    Types and Causes of Heart Valve Problems

    Your heart’s valves are an essential feature of its structure because they regulate the direction and flow of the blood that replenishes the oxygen supply throughout your body.

    Valve Repair or Replacement

    Depending on the nature and severity of your valve disease, your cardiologist may recommend one of the following procedures to repair or replace the problem valve...

    Valvuloplasty for Heart Valve Problems

    Valvuloplasty is a non-surgical procedure that can be used to open a heart valve that has narrowed. Valvuloplasty can be used on the mitral, aortic, or pulmonic valve.