Mitral Stenosis | Aortic Stenosis | Aortic Insufficiency | Mitral Regurgitation | Mitral Valve Prolapse | Tricuspid Regurgitation | Endocarditis | Bicuspid Aortic Valve | Connective Tissue Disease
What are heart valves?
The heart consists of four chambers, two atria (upper chambers) and two ventricles (lower chambers). There is a valve through which blood passes before leaving each chamber of the heart. The valves prevent the backward flow of blood. These valves are actual flaps (also called leaflets) that are located on each end of the two ventricles (lower chambers of the heart). They act as one-way inlets of blood on one side of a ventricle and one-way outlets of blood on the other side of a ventricle. Normal valves have three flaps (leaflets), except the mitral valve, which has two flaps (leaflets). The four heart valves include the following:
How do the heart valves function?
As the heart muscle contracts and relaxes, the valves open and close, letting blood flow into the ventricles and out to the body at alternate times. The following is a step-by-step illustration of how the valves function normally in the left ventricle:
What is heart valve disease?
Heart valves can have one or both of the two malfunctions:
Heart valves can have both malfunctions at the same time (regurgitation and stenosis). Also, more than one heart valve can be affected at the same time. When heart valves fail to open and close properly, the implications for the heart can be serious, possibly hampering the heart's ability to pump blood adequately through the body. Heart valve problems are one cause of heart failure.
What are the symptoms of heart valve disease?
Mild heart valve disease may not cause any symptoms. The following are the most common symptoms of heart valve disease. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may vary depending on the type of heart valve disease present and may include:
Symptoms of heart valve disease may resemble other medical conditions and problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
What causes heart valve damage?
The causes of heart valve damage vary depending on the type of disease present, and may include the following:
How is heart valve disease diagnosed?
Heart valve disease may be suspected if the heart sounds heard through a stethoscope are abnormal. This is usually the first step in diagnosing a heart valve disease. A characteristic heart murmur (abnormal sounds in the heart due to turbulent blood flow across the valve) can often indicate valve regurgitation or stenosis. To further define the type of valve disease and extent of the valve damage, physicians may use any of the following diagnostic procedures:
Heart valve disease and surgical procedures:
A person with heart valve disease will often need to take antibiotics before undergoing dental or other surgical procedures that cause bleeding. Antibiotics are also recommended by physicians and dentists before routine professional teeth cleaning and other procedures involving the gum or soft tissues of the mouth. Bacteria released during these and other procedures may enter the bloodstream and lodge in the heart on the vulnerable, diseased heart valve. The antibiotics help prevent against a potentially fatal infection called endocarditis, an infection of the heart's lining.
In addition, inform your dentist and other physicians if you are taking any anticoagulant medication (to prevent blood clots), because this medication can cause excessive bleeding during surgery.
Always inform your dentist and other physician(s) if you have heart valve disease.
Treatment for heart valve disease:
In some cases, the only treatment for heart valve disease may be careful medical supervision. However, other treatment options may include medication, surgery to repair the valve, or surgery to replace the valve. Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on:
Treatment varies, depending on the type of heart valve disease, and may include one, or a combination of, the following:
Medications are not a cure for heart valve disease but in many cases are successful in the treatment of symptoms caused by heart valve disease. These medications may include:
Surgery may be necessary to repair or replace the malfunctioning valve(s). Surgery may include:
Another treatment option that is less invasive than valve repair/replacement surgery is balloon valvuloplasty, a non-surgical procedure in which a special catheter (hollow tube) is threaded into a blood vessel in the groin and guided into the heart. The catheter, which contains a deflated balloon, is inserted into the narrowed heart valve and the inflated balloon is stretching the valve open. The balloon is then removed. This procedure is often used to treat pulmonary stenosis and, in some cases, aortic stenosis.
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