What is it?
Heart valves are 'doors' that control the flow of blood between the different chambers or parts of the heart.
In valvular heart disease, one or more of the heart valves become damaged and cnanot function properly. Different diseases affect different valves. Certain disease tend to affect on heart valve more than the others. The valves in the left side of the heart are more commonly affected than those in the right side of the heart.
In general, valves can become “floppy” and allow blood to flow backwards or become “tight” thereby narrowing the space through which the blood can flow forward. There can also be a mixture of both:
- Stenosis can occur if the flaps of a valve thicken, stiffen or fuse together, causing the narrowing of the valve opening. As a result, the amount of blood being pumped to the rest of the body becomes limited.
- Regurgitation, or backflow, occurs if the heart valve cannot close tightly. Blood leaks back into the chambers instead of flowing only forward. This reduces the heart's ability to pump blood to the rest of the body and may cause a buildup of pressure.
How is it diagnosed?
You could visit your family doctor who will take a detailed history, do a thorough physical examination and order the necessary tests. Your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist for further evaluation. The cardiologist may do an echocardiogram, a painless test using ultrasound, to help him look at your heart and its different structures.
This will help your doctor to understand your condition and be able to make an accurate diagnosis and give the correct treatment
What are the symptoms?
Patients will start experiencing symptoms at different ages depending on the disease that they have. This can range from the very young to the very old.
In the early stage, you may have no symptoms and feel alright even if your valve is badly damaged. The symptoms may appear later and become progressively worse.
Common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath on exertion
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Feeling of faintness or dizziness
- Irregular heart beat, palpitations or chest pain
- Swelling of the ankles
- Rapid weight gain
What is the treatment?
Depending on what is found, you may be:
- Given medications and be followed up regularly
- Referred to an interventional cardiologist for possible balloon dilatation.
- Referred to a cardiac surgeon for possible valve surgery
The interventional cardiologist is a cardiologist who carries out procedures on the heart using percutaneous methods through the skin.
The cardiac surgeon will:
- Explain why open surgery may be the best option for your condition
- Explain the different ways of treating the valves
- Explain the risks, benefits and possible complications
- Describe the surgical procedure
- Explain the post operative care
- Answer your questions and clarify your doubts
- Help you reach a decision and set a date for the surgery