The heart has four valves, each of which plays a critical role in moving blood through the heart and into the rest of the body. These valves are the mitral valve, pulmonary valve, tricuspid valve, and aortic valve. Heart valves open and shut to let blood into or out of the heart’s ventricles.
The two most common valve problems are:
- Stenosis: The valve fails to open fully, preventing the full amount of blood from flowing through. Over time, this can cause the ventricle behind the narrowed valve to enlarge.
- Regurgitation or Insufficiency: The valve does not properly shut, allowing some blood to flow backwards through the heart.
Heart valve disease may be congenital (from birth) or caused by some other heart disease, damage, or past infection. Congenital heart valve diseases include:
- Bicuspid aortic valve disease
- Pulmonary valve stenosis
- Aortic valve stenosis
- Ebstein’s anomaly
Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease
Heart valve disease symptoms can vary widely from patient to patient. Some patients may develop symptoms rapidly, while other patients may live with their heart valve disease for years without experiencing any symptoms. Your physician may first suspect heart valve disease upon hearing a heart murmur. (Note, however, that heart murmurs are extremely common and – on their own – not indicative of heart disease.)
Common symptoms of heart valve disease include:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Heart palpitations (rapid, irregular, or “flip-flop” feeling)
- Sudden weight gain
- Swelling in the abdominal region or extremities
- Weakness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should let your physician know as soon as possible. After evaluating your symptoms, your physician may refer you to a cardiologist at Phoenix Heart Center, where disease management and treatment can begin.
Heart Valve Disease Risk Factors
Risk for developing heart valve disease increases with age, as the heart valves become thicker and stiffer. Individuals who have a history of the following conditions are at an increased risk for developing heart valve disease:
- Infective endocarditis (IE)
- Rheumatic fever
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
Standard heart disease risk factors also apply. High blood cholesterol, hypertension, smoking, insulin resistance, being overweight, having diabetes, lack of exercise, and a family history of early heart disease can increase the risk for valvular disease.
Diagnosing Heart Valve Disease
Cardiologists at Phoenix Heart Center use a variety of diagnostic tools and procedures to better understand and treat patients’ heart valve disease. These may include:
- Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG)
- Chest X-Ray
- Cardiac Catheterization (through the radial artery
- Stress tests
Read more about any of these diagnostic procedures at Phoenix Heart Center.
Preventing Heart Valve Disease
Heart valve disease can have many different causes. To minimize your risk for developing heart valve disease:
- See your physician immediately if you’re exhibiting signs of strep throat. A strep infection can cause rheumatic fever, which may damage the heart valves.
- Exercise, eat a healthy diet, and take medication to lower your cholesterol levels, if your physician advises you to do so. These measures may help prevent aortic valve stenosis.
- If you have received an artificial heart valve in the past, take the proper precautions to protect against infective endocarditis. Practice excellent dental hygiene, and inform your physicians and dentists of your condition prior to any procedure.
Treating Heart Valve Disease
There are four aspects to treating heart valve disease, the success of which is closely tied to the patient’s involvement in treating the disease. A patient must…
- Take on the responsibility of informing all physicians and dentists about his or her heart valve disease. This decreases the risk of developing infective endocarditis. Furthermore, good dental hygiene and proper treatment of antibiotics is essential.
- Take prescribed medications. A patient should know the name, purpose, and appropriate usage of all prescribed medications.
- With the advice of his or her primary care provider and cardiologist, a patient should make a decision about pursuing medical treatment and/or surgical repair or replacement of the damaged valve.
- Lastly, the patient must schedule and attend regular follow-up appointments with a cardiologist. Lifelong monitoring of heart valves is necessary for patients who have had heart valve disease.
At Phoenix Heart Center, cardiologists offer several heart valve disease treatment options, including aortic valvuloplasty and mitral valvuloplasty. Learn more about these interventional procedures.
For more information about diagnosing and treating heart valve disease, contact a Phoenix Heart Center practice location convenient to you. Now serving Central Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe. You can also schedule an appointment online.