What is heart valve disease?
Every time the heart beats, each of its four valves open and close, ensuring that blood flows in the right direction through the heart’s chambers and out to the rest of the body. If the valves don’t work well – whether they don’t close tightly, thicken, stiffen or fuse together, or lack an opening for blood to pass through altogether – heart valve disease is present.
However, it is possible to have heart valve disease and notice no symptoms. For some, it worsens slowly until symptoms develop. If it is not treated, advanced heart valve disease can cause heart failure, stroke, blood clots or sudden cardiac arrest.
What are the signs and symptoms?
The main sign of heart valve disease is a heart murmur. However, the presence of a murmur doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a valve problem.
Because heart valve disease can cause heart failure, many of the symptoms of failure – such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling in the ankles, feet, legs and abdomen – also indicate valve disease. Other possible symptoms include a fluttering, racing or irregular heartbeat, and dizziness or fainting.
Repair or replace?
Most heart valve issues are diagnosed through echocardiography, which involves an ultrasound of the heart. After heart valve disease has been diagnosed, the doctor will recommend repair or replacement based on a variety of factors. These include how severe the disease is, the patient’s age, general health, and need for heart surgery for reasons other than valve replacement.
At the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, researchers continue to work on less invasive procedures that allow more, higher-risk patients to undergo valve replacement, and that help patients recover faster and with fewer complications.