From an interview with
Dr. Ravi Parikh
McLeod Cardiology Associates – Florence
The heart has four valves that function like trap doors. Blood flows in one direction through the heart to either the lungs or the rest of the body. When you have a leaky heart valve, the doors don’t close properly, or the doors are pulled apart, so blood goes backwards. When we say a leaking heart valve or a regurgitant heart valve, it means the blood is going backwards in the heart. So those doors are not working well.
Many people have no symptoms that signal a heart valve issue. However, if the condition becomes more severe, you may have fatigue, shortness of breath, leg swelling, chest discomfort or decreased exercise tolerance. You may have trouble lying flat, have palpitations, the sensation that the heart’s running away or a fast heart rhythm. These are all very common symptom when the valve leakiness reaches the severe range.
Leaky valve treatments fall into two categories. We’re talking about the mitral valve, which connects the top and bottom chambers on the left side of the heart, with a problem with the valve. For people with low to intermediate risk, surgery is the standard of care. For people with high-risk, open surgery is unlikely. In those cases, we turn to other options, such as transcatheter valve repairs, called a Mitraclip™.
The Mitraclip™ mechanism fastens the leaflets together, reducing the leakiness of the valve.
Specialists also perform the procedure on patients with congestive heart failure. In this case, the heart valve opens but doesn’t close properly. In these situations, MitraClip™ is the first-line therapy after medications have proven unsuccessful.
It is difficult to predict who will have a leaky valve, but we do know that age is the primary factor. A certain percentage of the population is going to have either aortic or mitral valve disease; in fact, about ten percent of people over the age of 75 have mitral valve disease. Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done to prevent it. What we can all do is focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle as the first line of defense.