Overview – What is it?
Heart valve disease refers to when the valves of the heart do not function properly. The cause of this disease can be due to old age and certain health conditions like hypertension, among other factors. The symptoms that can be experienced by a person with heart valve disease include shortness of breath, fatigue and swelling of the ankles, feet or abdomen.
To diagnose this disease, tests like electrocardiogram and a cardiac catheterisation can be carried out. The treatment for this disease can include medication and surgery depending on the severity of the condition.
To protect yourself from getting this disease, you should get treatment for any infection that can lead to heart valve disease such as strep infections, eat a heart healthy diet and do the necessary lifestyle changes to prevent heart diseases.
Causes – What causes it?
Heart valve disease can be presented at birth or in adulthood due to various causes. The different heart valve problems and their causes are as follows:
- Stenosis: This occurs when the valve flaps become thick and stiff which may cause them to fuse together resulting in a narrowed valve that, in turn, reduces blood flow through it.
- Regurgitation: This condition on the other hand, involves valve flaps not closing properly which causes backward leakage of blood in the heart. It occurs as a result of valve flaps bulging back (prolapse).
- Atresia: It occurs when there is no formation of the valve. This causes blockage of blood flow between the heart chambers by a solid sheet of tissue.
Other causes include:
- Rheumatic fever: This is an infection caused by untreated bacterial infection, usually strep throat. The infection causes inflammation of the heart valves.
- Endocarditis: It occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream during surgery or dental procedures. On entering the bloodstream, the bacteria attack the heart valves causing growths and holes and scarring in the valves. This can cause leakage of the valves
Risk factors for heart valve disease in adults are:
- History of certain forms of heart disease or heart attack which can damage the heart valves so causing this condition.
- Certain health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels.
- Some medications such as diet medicines can also increase heart valve disease risk.
- Radiation treatment on the chest area can increase the risk of getting heart valve disease.
- Old age can also increase the risk of having heart valve disease
Symptoms – What do you feel?
Some people may experience symptoms while others may not. These are some of the symptoms that this condition can cause:
- Weakness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Chest discomfort
- Swelling of the ankles, feet or abdomen
- Rapid unintentional weight gain
- Abnormal sound of the heartbeat when listening to it using a stethoscope
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
The diagnosis of heart valve disease is done using tests that are used for other heart conditions. These tests include:
- Electrocardiography: It is done using electrodes or wires which are attached to pads on the skin to measure electrical impulses from the heart. It can detect any abnormal heart rhythms.
- Echocardiography: This test uses waves directed to the heart using a transducer to produce video images of the heart in motion which enable the doctor to check the heart structure, heart valves and the flow of blood through the heart.
- Cardiac catheterisation: It is mostly used to determine the severity of the condition by inserting a catheter through the blood vessel to the heart injecting a dye that makes the artery visible on an x-ray.
- Cardiac MRI: Uses an MRI magnetic resonance imaging machine to give detailed images of the inside of the heart which can be used to determine the severity of the condition and check the size and functioning of the heart’s lower chambers (ventricles).
- Chest x-ray: Through an x-ray of the chest, the doctor is able to tell whether the heart is enlarged and also determine the condition of the lungs.
- Stress test: In a stress test, a person is made to exercise on a treadmill or on a stationary bicycle and the heart’s tolerance is measured. It also enables monitoring of the heart’s response to physical activity. If the person is not able to exercise, medication may be used to stimulate the same effect caused by exercising.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
Another treatment used in heart valve disease is protecting the valve from further damage by taking good care of the teeth and gums to prevent infections and by using antibiotics before undergoing any procedures that can cause bleeding.
The treatment for this condition depends on its severity and whether a person is experiencing any symptoms. These are the treatments available for this condition:
- Medications: Different medicines may be used to help in the treatment of heart valve disease, these may include:
- Anticoagulants or blood thinners which are used to prolong clotting time for people at risk of developing blood clots.
- ACE inhibitors which are used to treat hypertension and heart failure.
- Surgery and other procedures: These can be done to repair the heart valve or to replace it.
Repairing the heart valve
- to separate valve flaps that are fused, remove excess valve tissue or to replace the cords that support the valve. An artificial ring may be implanted to tighten or reinforce the ring around the valve.
- to repair a narrowed valve, a catheter may be used. The catheter is inserted into the narrowed valve after which the balloon at its tip is inflated to expand the narrow opening. The catheter and balloon are then removed, and other treatments may be required over time.
Replacing the heart valve
- the damaged valve is removed and replaced with a mechanical valve made from biological tissue. These biological tissue valves degenerate over time and therefore, they need to be replaced. Blood thinning medication is also needed for people with mechanical valves to prevent blood clots.
There is no specific way to prevent this condition, however, reducing the risk factors can help in preventing yourself from getting this disease. This can be through:
- Getting treated for strep infection to prevent heart valve disease that is caused by rheumatic fever
- Eating a heart healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats and excess sugar and salt. It should also consist of less poultry and dairy products
- Exercising regularly to remain physically active
- Avoiding excessive alcohol intake and not smoking
- Managing your stress by doing relaxation activities and using medication when prescribed by a doctor
- Getting treatment for conditions that can lead to heart valve disease such as diabetes and hypertension as well as other heart conditions