Valvular heart disease is a condition that affects almost three percent of those who live in the United States. Most common in older adults, this disease affects nearly five million Americans each year. At Cardiac Associates of North Jersey in Oakland, NJ, we provide patients with various treatments for heart-related conditions. If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from valvular disease, it essential to understand what it is and how it works.
Valvular disease can be life-threatening if it is left untreated. Many people go through life, not realizing there is a problem with their valves. The severity of symptoms does not often directly correlate with the severity of each case. If this disease flies under the radar, it can lead to heart failure, blood clots, a stroke, or even sudden death due to cardiac arrest.
Understanding Your Heart Valves
Your heart has four chambers and four valves. Each valve opens and closes to regulate blood flow to and from your heart. The mitral valve enables blood to flow from your left atrium to your left ventricle. The tricuspid valve enables blood to flow from your right atrium to your right ventricle. The aortic valve lets blood flow from your left ventricle to your aorta. Finally, your pulmonary valve allows blood flow from your right ventricle to your pulmonary artery.
Healthy valves can open and close fully during a heartbeat. Damaged or diseased values are unable to function fully. When a valve cannot be fully opened and closed, it can leak blood back into the chamber it came from, which means your heart will not receive enough. The aortic valve is most commonly affected by this disease.
Valve disease can come on quickly or develop over time. When it takes time to develop, you may not experience symptoms until the disease is advanced. Sudden symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, sudden weight gain, fatigue, dizziness, or an irregular heartbeat.
Who Is at Risk?
Although heart valve disease affects fewer people than common conditions such as coronary artery disease, it is increasingly becoming more of a problem thanks to longer life expectancies. Since medical care has improved over the years, people are living longer, and valve disease is becoming more of an issue among aging seniors.
There are a few things that can cause valve disease. When your valves are diseased, your heart cannot effectively pump blood throughout your body, which means it will have to work harder. When your heart works harder, it may lead to heart failure. Some people are naturally born with heart valve disease, although it may also be caused by infections, degenerative conditions, and conditions linked to heart disease.
If you have strep throat that is not treated with antibiotics, an infection can occur and cause rheumatic disease. This condition can cause scarring on your heart valves and is the most common cause of valve disease across the globe. However, it is not a common cause in US cases, thanks to the accessibility of antibiotics.
A severe blood infection that is left untreated can cause endocarditis, a condition that attacks your heart’s inner lining, which can cause a leak. This infection may also be caused by intravenous drug use.
Congenital Heart Valve Disease
This condition occurs if any one of your heart valves is deformed. Healthy tricuspid, aortic, and pulmonary valves have three leaflets that work together in opening and closing. Healthy mitral valves have two leaflets. If any of your healthy valves are missing a leaflet, it is considered malformed and can lead to heart valve disease.
More common heart conditions such as heart failure, aortic aneurysms, high blood pressure, and heart attacks can be an underlying cause of valve disease. Autoimmune disease, atherosclerosis, Marfan syndrome, and exposure to high levels of radiation may also play a role.
When your doctor listens to your heartbeat, he or she may hear an unusual sound, which is usually indicative of a malfunctioning valve. Depending on the sound’s location and rhythm, your doctor may be able to identify which valve is not functioning correctly. He or she may also perform an echocardiography test, which uses sound waves to create a visual representation of how well your valves are working.
If a valve is only mildly damaged, you may be able to manage this disease with medication. If a valve is severely diseased, you may need to undergo surgery to have it fixed. Whether you need open-heart surgery depends on the severity of how bad the valve is damaged.