Types of heart valve problems and how to handle them

October 08, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Your heart relies on four valves — the aortic, pulmonary, tricuspid and mitral valves — to help keep things pumping smoothly. As we age, sometimes our heart valves weaken and develop disease.

Often times, the first sign of trouble can be picked up by a heart murmur. Many heart murmurs are harmless (also called “innocent” murmurs), but sometimes a murmur indicates a problem. If your doctor hears a heart murmur, he or she may order additional tests to get a better handle of what’s happening.

A murmur may indicate one of the following problems:

  • Stenosis, or a valve that is too narrow or doesn’t open properly, preventing adequate blood flow through it
  • Regurgitation, which occurs when a valve doesn’t properly close, allowing blood to flow backward into one of the heart’s chambers (also called a “leaky” valve)
  • Prolapse, which can occur in the mitral valve when two of the flaps do not close evenly and bulge into the left atrium, allowing blood to leak backward into the valve
  • Artesia, which happens when a valve is missing or improperly formed

Any one of these problems can cause the heart to work harder to provide your body the proper blood flow.

Aside from a heart murmur, symptoms that something may be amiss include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, swollen ankles or abdomen, and lightheadedness.

If your symptoms worsen with time, it could indicate that your heart valve disease is progressing.

Heart valve problems can be the result of congenital defects from birth, or problems that develop as we age and our hearts weaken, or calcification of the valves. Sometimes valve conditions develop due to illnesses, such as infective endocarditis and rheumatic fever.

Your doctor will be able to discuss treatment options with you.

Some people live long lives and never require surgery for their valvular heart disease. However, once the valve disease has worsened and affects the heart’s ability to pump, surgery is needed to repair or replace the faulty valve.

Surgical options include valve repair or complete replacement with a mechanical or tissue (either from a human donor or animal tissue) valve.

The good news is that often times people who undergo surgery return to good health. Without surgery, though, the American Heart Association notes survival rates for aortic stenosis, one of the most common and most serious valve disease problems, are only 50 percent after two years and drop to 20 percent after five years once the disease has progressed.

For patients with severe aortic stenosis who are deemed too high-risk for traditional open-heart surgery, transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) replaces the diseased aortic valve. Because not all hearts or heart valves are exactly the same, the new LOTUS Edge™ Valve System at Edward-Elmhurst Health allows physicians to precisely place the new valve into an optimal position in the heart and adjust it for a custom fit in those patients who have complex structural challenges.

Though there is no medication to correct or repair a heart valve problem, your doctor may prescribe medication to help address some of the symptoms.

Medications can include antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection, blood thinners to help prevent clots from forming around faulty valves, beta blockers to help ease the heart’s workload, and diuretics to help reduce the amount of fluid and also reduce the heart’s workload. Your doctor also may prescribe medications to help restore your heart’s rhythm.

You can depend on the Cardiac Innovations & Structural Heart Center® team at the Heart Hospital of Edward-Elmhurst Health to effectively treat your heart condition with a number of minimally invasive options.

Know your risk for heart disease. Take a free, 5-minute test that could save your life.

Related blogs:

Lifesaving cardiac innovations in your community

Understanding and treating mitral valve disease

TAVR is the answer for some high-risk heart valve patients

Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago:

New technology improves heart disease screenings and treatment

Five cardiac risk factors you need to know

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