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Valves of the heart are essential for controlling blood flow. Diseased valves, known as valvular heart disease, can lead to heart failure if not repaired or replaced.
The heart has four chambers (right and left atria and right and left ventricles) and four valves. The valves open and close to control blood flow into and away from the heart. Heart valves must fully open and close during the heartbeat for enough oxygen-rich blood to flow to all parts of the body.
With diseased valves, the heart can’t effectively pump blood throughout the body and needs to work harder. Instead, they can become “leaky” when they don’t completely close. Blood leaks back into the chamber that it came from and not enough blood is pushed forward through the heart.
Your aortic valve is particularly vulnerable to disease. This important valve opens and closes 60 times per minute and never stops. Over time, this stress can lead to wear and tear on the valve, either by accumulating calcium or thickening the heart muscle. This can lead to heart failure or sudden cardiac arrest (when the heart stops beating).
Heart valve disease can develop quickly or over a long period of time. When valve disease develops slowly, there may be no symptoms until the condition is serious.
When it develops suddenly, people may experience the following symptoms:
Heart valve problems may include:
There are several causes of valvular heart disease, including congenital conditions (being born with it), getting older, infections, and conditions linked to other heart disease types.
The doctor may listen to your heartbeat and hear a heart murmur (an unusual sound). The doctor may determine by listening to your chest which valve is affected and what type of problem it has (regurgitation or stenosis).
A doctor may also use an echocardiogram (EKG), a test that uses sound waves to create a video of the valves to see how they are functioning.
If the condition isn’t too severe, it might be managed with medicines to treat the symptoms.
If the valve is causing more severe symptoms, surgery may be recommended. The type of surgery will depend on the valve involved and the cause of the valvular disease. For some conditions, the valve will need to be replaced by either opening the heart during surgery or replacing the valve without surgery.
Aortic valve: If your aortic valve is diseased, the lifestyle changes listed below can help slow down the damage.
Endocarditis: If you already have valvular heart disease, you may be at increased risk of getting infective endocarditis. This infection can greatly damage or destroy the heart valves. You are at risk even if your valve has been repaired or replaced.
Presbyterian’s Heart and Vascular team has many different options to help you manage your heart condition. The team performs various diagnostic tests and procedures to help form an accurate diagnosis and create individualized treatment plans for your heart health needs. Depending on the type of heart condition you have and its underlying cause, the team can recommend a wide variety of treatment options, including lifestyle modifications, medications, and procedures. Our cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons work closely together for cases in which surgery is the best treatment option. We also offer a customized cardiac rehabilitation program at our Healthplex, where clinically appropriate, which can improve your endurance and exercise tolerance, as well as improve heart-related symptoms. Your cardiologist will work with the rehabilitation team to create a plan that will be tailored to your individual health needs.