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Heart valve disease: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About heart valve disease

Heart valve diseases are common conditions responsible for significant morbidity as well as mortality in some cases. It is important to diagnose them early so that long-term complications can be prevented.

The heart consists of two upper chambers namely atria and two lower chambers namely ventricles, which contract in a coordinated fashion. Heart valves are present between upper and lower chambers and also between ventricles and major blood vessels. These heart valves are responsible for maintaining unidirectional flow of blood. The valves may either become narrow with obstruction to the flow of blood, or there may be leak with backward flow of blood.

Heart valve disease: Incidence, age and sex

Heart valve disease is commonly seen in the general population. Although it may occur in any age group, it is predominantly seen in adults.

Signs and symptoms of heart valve disease: Diagnosis

The signs and symptoms depend upon the site of the valve and nature of lesion. The usual symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue and effort intolerance. Stenotic lesions which cause obstruction to blood flow can also lead to fainting episodes. Valvular lesions are suspected by the presence of a murmur during chest auscultation. Different valvular lesions lead to murmurs in different phases of the heart cycle.

The main modality to diagnose heart valve disease is echocardiography which is a non-invasive procedure to visualise the various chambers and the valves of heart. Sometimes invasive procedures like cardiac catheterisation may be needed to assess the effect of valvular lesion on pressures in different heart chambers.

Causes and prevention of heart valve disease

There are many causes of heart valve disease. Sometimes they may be present since birth. Coronary artery disease with dysfunction of small muscles around the valves is one of the commonest and most important causes. Rheumatic heart disease which follows a bacterial throat infection is also an important cause; however its incidence is declining.

Heart valve disease: Complications

Stenotic lesions can lead to fainting attacks, heart rhythm disturbances and even sudden death. Regurgitant lesions lead to volume overload and consequent heart failure. Bacterial infection can occur on the regurgitant valves and can cause serious morbidity.

Heart valve disease: Treatment

Medical treatment usually involves drugs to reduce the load on the heart. Diuretics which help in elimination of excess water through urine may also be prescribed. Stenotic lesions are usually treated by balloon dilatation through a catheter inserted into the artery through the groin. Regurgitant lesions usually require repair of the valve during open heart surgery. Often valve replacement by a metallic or a bio-prosthetic valve is needed. Patients with valve replacement need life-long administration of drugs to prevent blood clotting.