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.
Your physician's recommendations may include the following:
- Regular visits with your doctor. Your doctor needs to see you regularly to know if your valve problem has gotten worse and should be treated more aggressively. If tests show minor or moderate malfunction of a valve, your cardiologist may recommend monitoring your condition during regular check-ups with echocardiography (ultrasound). You may never need treatment if the problem fails to develop into anything more serious. If you do not have severe heart valve disease, your physician may recommend monitoring your condition rather than surgery.
- An echocardiogram is an ultrasound that shows the structure of the heart and its components and how it’s functioning. It is the most widely accepted way of monitoring and tracking the progression of a heart valve problem. It’s a good idea to have an echocardiogram every six or twelve months to see if there’s any change, and more frequently if changes are noticed.
- Infection prevention. Early treatment of strep throat infection can reduce your chances of contracting rheumatic fever, which can cause your heart valves to thicken. Also, if you have heart valve disease and need to undergo surgical or dental procedures, talk to your doctor or dentist about taking antibiotics before the procedure. The American Heart Association recommends antibiotics before dental procedures for people who have undergone valve surgery to prevent valve infection from bacteria in the mouth, but it is no longer recommended for people who only have a leaky or a narrowed valve. (See Protecting Yourself from Endocarditis for more information about preventing infection.)
- Medications. If your heart valve disease is not yet serious enough to require surgery or if you have already had surgery, your physician may prescribe medication as part of your wellness plan. Common medications for managing valve disease and providing symptom relief include:
- Diuretics, drugs that help reduce fluid accumulation in your body by increasing fluid loss through urination;
- Blood thinners, or anti-coagulants, which help prevent blood clots from forming and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke; and
- Drugs to control an irregular heartbeat, such as the too-fast heart rhythm of atrial fibrillation (AF).
- Some blood pressure medications may be prescribed to take some of the workload off the heart that is already overworked by the malfunctioning valve.
If you have already had valvuloplasty or valve repair or replacement, regular checkups are equally important. Talk to your physician and cardiologist about the best way to monitor your valve disease.
- Exercise and diet. Talk to your doctor about appropriate dietary changes and levels of exercise. Exercise keeps the body strong and can help reduce high cholesterol and blood pressure, which are risk factors for heart disease. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for cardiac health. Restricting your intake of salt can also help lessen fluid retention and improve symptoms related to heart valve disease. SecondsCount.org offers strategies for
- Heart-Healthy Nutrition, including tips and recipes that will help you limit salt in your diet and develop other eating habits that will reduce your risk of more valve problems.
If you notice an increase in fatigue or shortness of breath or any other symptoms, report it immediately to your doctor.