The heart has four valves â€“ the aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid. They are essentially thin pieces of tissue much like a butterfly's wing. Their job is to keep the blood flowing in one direction through the heart and lungs.
When the valves malfunction they can cause:
Regurgitation (leaking valves): The valve does not close properly causing the blood to flow backward through the valve. This creates inefficiencies, resulting in progressive dilation of the chambers of the heart.
Stenosis (narrowing of the heart valve): The valve opening becomes narrowed, limiting blood flow which mandates the heart must pump blood with increased force. This results in progressive thickening and loss of flexibility and endurance of the heart muscle.
Many people with heart valve disease have no symptoms early in the disease process. Fatigue and lack of energy are two of the most common early symptoms, along with irregularities of the heart beat which many people describe as "palpitations."
Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease can include:
- Chest discomfort or pressure when active
- Chest painâ€¨
- Loss of consciousness
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of legs/fluid retention
Diagnosis of Heart Valve Disease
Tests used to diagnose heart valve disease may include:
- Chest X-Ray
- Transthoracic Echocardiogram (TTE)
- Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE)
- Cardiac Catherization
Many people live long and healthy lives without ever knowing they have a mild valve problem. In most patients, medications will correct or relieve the valve disease. In symptomatic patients and those with severe disease a heart valve repair or replacement may be necessary.