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Heart Valve Disease

If one or more of your heart valves is damaged, the flow of blood to your heart can be affected. This can cause problems and may require treatment with either medicine or surgery. Blood must flow through the heart’s four chambers in a particular direction, which is controlled by the heart’s valves. Once blood has been pumped out, it cannot go back into the heart.

A diseased or damaged valve can affect the flow of blood in two ways:

By not opening completely, the valve restricts the flow of blood. This is known as valve stenosis, which puts extra strain on your heart, forcing it to pump harder.

If the valve cannot close properly, it allows blood to leak backwards. This is known as valve incompetence or regurgitation. This puts extra strain on your heart by forcing it to work harder to pump the required volume of blood. There are multiple kinds of valve disorders at varying levels of severity.

CausesThe primary causes of heart disease are:

  • Congenital heart disease (being born with valve abnormalities)
  • Having had rheumatic fever
  • Cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle)
  • Age
  • Damage to the heart muscle from a heart attack

SymptomsWhile it’s possible to not experience any symptoms, common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Feeling unusually tired or weak
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Palpitations

Diagnosis Heart valve disorders are typically diagnosed through a physical examination and a description of symptoms. Valve disorders often make a distinctive murmuring sound when listened to over a stethoscope, though this does not always mean there is a problem with your heart. Your doctor may recommend further tests, such as an echocardiogram.

TreatmentHeart valve disorders may not require treatment at all depending on the level of severity. Your doctor may ask you to come back for a checkup in a year, or if your symptoms worsen. Most valve problems can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes, or in more severe cases by heart valve surgery. Treatment plans are determined by the effect on your heart as well as factors like age and general health.