• Heart Valve Problems: A Guide to Identifying & Monitoring Symptoms

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    If you think you have symptoms of valve disease, don't put off seeing your doctor. Heart valve disease can be treated. That's why symptoms, although uncomfortable, are so important — paying attention to them can save your life. Without treatment, half of the people who experience symptoms of severe aortic valve stenosis, one of the most common types of heart valve disease, die within an average of two years. To learn more about the symptoms of heart valve problems, read on.

    Learn the Most Common Symptoms of Valve Disease

    If you have any of the most common symptoms of valve disease listed below, tell your doctor. It may not be valve disease, but it is still important to determine why you are feeling the way you do — especially if it is interfering with your daily activities.

    • Shortness of breath or difficulty catching your breath during exertion, normal daily activities or while lying in bed
    • Weakness or dizziness, fainting or passing out
    • Chest discomfort, especially during activity or when stepping out into the cold
    • Fast or irregular heartbeat
    • Swollen ankles and feet or swelling in the abdomen, possibly with a bloated feeling in your stomach
    • Sudden weight gain, for example, a two- to three-pound gain in one day
    • Fatigue
    • Low or high blood pressure
    • Abdominal pain

    Symptom lists like the one above are a good place to start, but your symptoms may be different from those of others. If, after reading the list of symptoms, you find yourself asking any of these questions, then check with your doctor. The risk of developing a leaky mitral valve increases as we age because the valve is prone to wear and tear over time. The valve leaflets can be damaged or stretched out to the extent they don't close properly, allowing blood to leak back into the heart.

    • What if I only have one of those symptoms? How many should I have before I call the doctor?
    • What if I had that symptom once last month but it hasn't happened again since?
    • What if I have another condition that could be causing that same symptom?

    Sharing information about how you are feeling and the circumstances when your symptoms occur will help your doctor to work with you to diagnose your condition and develop a treatment plan. If you do have heart valve disease, you want to obtain an accurate diagnosis and get treatment as soon as possible.

    Monitor the Severity of Your Symptoms

    In addition to recognizing your symptoms, it is important to note how your symptoms change over time. It's not unusual to ignore or not notice symptoms that are warning signs of valve disease, especially if they come on gradually over time. If you've already been diagnosed with valve disease, it is just as important to monitor any changes in your symptoms and report them as soon as possible to your doctor.

    The severity of valve symptoms can be categorized in several ways:

    • No Symptoms. It is possible to have valve disease without any symptoms, other than a murmur that is heard on examination. So it's important to see your doctor regularly and discuss any concerns you may have about being at risk for any problems with your heart and health in general.
    • Symptoms That Come and Go. Sometimes symptoms may not be consistent and regularly recurring. They may be mistaken for other feelings within your body. These can be the most difficult to attribute to a valve problem or other heart problem.
    • Severe Symptoms. If your symptoms are severe, stay calm and see your doctor. Your symptoms are letting you know that you need treatment. Symptoms are not an exact science and can lead to the wrong conclusions if not put together in the right context. You may have no symptoms but need prompt treatment. Or you may have severe symptoms and a minor valve problem.
    • Symptoms That Gradually Become Worse Over Time. As we age, it becomes very difficult to distinguish between the aches and pains of getting older and symptoms of a more serious underlying problem. Don't be too quick to assume that you feel bad because you are getting older.

    Keep a Symptom Log

    Whether or not your valve disease has been diagnosed, it is important to record how you're feeling to better identify changes over time — not just how you feel at any given moment. For example, if you have shortness of breath, when do you have it? What were you doing when you had it? If you could walk to the mailbox and back last month without having any difficulty breathing but now you notice shortness of breath on the way back, take note and discuss it with your doctor. Use the Seconds Count Symptom Log to record and organize the information about your symptoms."

    How Can an Echocardiogram Help?

    If you have valve disease, your doctor will probably recommend that you have an echocardiogram to monitor the progress of the disease. This is a painless test that uses ultrasound to create a moving picture of the function your heart and how your heart valves are working. It truly provides a window to your heart for your cardiologist. Because echocardiograms are such an important part of monitoring valve disease, if possible, have them done at the same location for easier comparison. Make sure that the facility you are using has specialists that interpret echocardiograms. Be sure that you understand what the results of the tests mean and if there have been changes from previous evaluations.

    Still Not Sure About What to Do Next?

    If you have questions or concerns of any kind about how you feel, call your doctor and consider making an appointment. What do you have to lose? When it comes to heart valve disease, you have everything to gain by treating it sooner rather than later. If you do decide to see your doctor, be sure to download and print Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Heart Valve Disease as a reminder of what you want to ask and to take notes during your visit.

    Keep in mind that options to improve valve function continue to expand, whether by surgery or by minimally invasive, catheterbased treatment options. Ask your cardiologist which of these options may be able to help your condition.

    Have Other Questions About Heart Health?

    Ask them. Contact your healthcare provider and ask all of your questions. Any time you have health questions, the conversations you have with your doctor are the key to successful results. Ask every question you have.

    To download the PDF of this information, click here.

    We hope you will also use this website to learn more about your cardiovascular health and treatment options. SecondsCount.org was developed by the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions