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Are You Due for a Heart Valve Job?
An overview: Heart Valve Problems & Treatment for Mitral Valve Prolapse
If you did something over 100,000 times a day (40 million times a year), you would eventually fatigue and wear out. Right? So, it is no wonder the valves in our beating hearts can wear out as they get no rest.
A human heart has four valves that are designed to keep blood flowing in the proper forward direction. If a valve leaks or does not close properly, the heart becomes less efficient and the entire body may suffer by not receiving enough blood. Even worse, the heart may actually pump blood backwards (regurgitate) into the lungs.
Mitral valve prolapse is one of the most common heart diseases, particularly common in females, and occurs when the valve leaflets do not seal properly. “Some people are born predisposed to this heart condition and live much of their lives with no symptoms,” says McLeod Cardiothoracic Surgeon Scot C. Schultz, MD. "In fact, often times, the condition disappears with advancing age. If symptoms do appear, it is usually shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats (called arrhythmias), dizziness or even chest pain.”
Untreated leaky or “floppy” mitral valves can predispose to heart infection (infective endocarditis), an enlarged heart, lung disease, congestive heart failure, or even stroke.
Medication is an effective treatment for some people with mitral valve prolapse while others may require heart surgery to repair or replace a leaky mitral valve. When appropriate, repair is preferred over replacement using either a mechanical or biological valve.
“Biological” mitral valves come from pigs or cows. The disadvantage to this type of valve is that they have a limited durability and may deteriorate after 15-20 years. The good news is that the recipient is not required to take blood thinners or medication to reduce rejection.
So-called “man-made” or mechanical heart valves are derived from polycarbon, metal, plastic or other materials and last much longer than a biological valve – often the recipient’s entire remaining lifetime. However, recipients must take blood-thinning medication to prevent blood clots from forming on the valve, potentially causing heart attack or stroke.
Final Thought. There is no need to live with symptomatic faulty heart valves. You should see you doctor if you have these symptoms of valve problems: fatigue and tiredness, shortness of breath (particularly with exercise or when you are lying down) and swelling in your legs, feet or ankles.
Sources: McLeod Health; National Institutes of Health; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; About.com