The human heart has four valves, one for each chamber, divided, equally, in each half of the heart. Blood flows from the atria to the ventricles, whenever the triscupid and mitral valves open. They close when the ventricles are full, so that blood isn’t forced back, while the ventricles contract and force the aortic and pulmonary valves open. At this stage, blood is released from the heart towards the rest of the body, while ‘the pump’ prepares for the next cycle. Basically the four valves regulate the blood flow between heart, lungs and human body. Blood has to pass continuously in a single, forward, direction. When one of the valves stops from functioning normally, a patient is diagnosed with heart valve disease.
Causes of Heart Valve Disease
Depending on the heart valve disorder causes can be divided in:
– Narrowed valves: developed before birth (congenital); caused by atherosclerosis and/or calcification because of aging (can occur only in the aortic valve); malformation cause by rheumatic fever.
– Leaky valves: infection caused by a bacterial which inflames the valve; heart or aorta enlargement; excessive flexibility of the valve (common for the mitral valve)
Heart Valve Disorder Symptoms
It’s common that in mild cases symptoms are not surfacing. Sufferers might don’t even know that they have heart valve problems if they don’t undergo a detailed heart check. Even in severe cases symptoms might not be detected for quite sometime. However, with the onset of a serious valve disorder the heart starts working extra-time and symptoms could make their presence at some time.
However, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of aortic valve disorder. If the condition leads to narrowing of the blood flow (stenosis), the heart failure could cause instant death:
– physical effort makes you dizzy and even leads to fainting episodes;
– you feel chest pain (angina) during physical activity
– you often experience shortness of breath even if you don’t overexert yourself
Other commons symptoms of heart valve disorders are:
– a sensation of weakness and not being able to perform daily routines;
– feeling the need of sleeping elevated on pillows in order to breathe properly;
– feeling of pressure on your chest when breathing cold air;
– disturbed heart rhythm (arrythmia), irregular beats, skipped beats;
– feet and or belly swelling accompanied by sudden weight gain
Diagnosis and Treatment
A doctor will check the patients health file, ask for symptoms and use a stethoscope to listen the heart for unhealthy sounds. If he finds heart valve malformation sever he will refer the sufferer to a hospital for detailed examinations performed with the help of the echocardiography or cardiac catheterisation procedures.
If the heart valve disease is not severe treatment involves medication which can be preventive in order the avoid the bacterial infection of a vulnerable valve, as well as other drugs that help the body to cope with the valve disorder:
– Heart: pills containing ACE inhibitors are recommended to help the heart pump more efficiently
– Circulatory System: blood thinners like Warfarin can be used the prevent blood from clotting
– Fluid Elimination: diuretics are prescribed in case of water retention. This way the body will manage to better eliminate excess and salts with a better kidney function.
If a health valve disorder continues to develop and reaches a severe state, reparatory or replacement surgery can be performed in order to lower the risk of heart failure. Repairing of the valve is usually possible in case of mitral valve disease. Else, the damaged valve is replaced with an artificial one. The side-effects of surgery consist in the fact that medication against blood clotting has to be taken for the rest of the patients life, and that he procedure itself is very intrusive.
Lifestyle Changes for Sufferers
If you where diagnosed with a heart valve disorder, it’s a must to change your lifestyle and protect your heart from additional health problems. This applies even to those that have been successfully treated with repairs or replacement surgery. Here are a few tips that every sufferer should follow:
– Provide extra attention for the care of your teeth and gums, because that’s the easiest way for bacteria to enter your blood stream;
– Visit your doctor for regular check-ups even if your symptoms have disappeared;
– Ingest antibiotics whenever you go through a medical procedure that involves bleeding;
– Follow ideal sleep patterns and don’t overexert your self by working late or overtime;
– If your doctor allows, perform light daily physical activities to keep your heart in shape (cycling, brisk walking light jogging and so on)
– Follow a healthy diet and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables; keep your weight under control.