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When the four main valves of your heart are working properly, they open to pump out blood to the rest of your body, and close to keep blood from going backward into the heart. But if a valve doesn’t work as it should, it can keep your body from
getting sufficient blood or cause the blood to seep back into the heart.
Problems with both the opening (stenosis) and closing (regurgitation) of valves require the heart to work harder, triggering shortness of breath, fatigue and other symptoms. Unless the valves are treated, stroke, heart failure and sudden cardiac death
With aortic valve regurgitation, the aortic valve doesn’t close tightly, causing blood to leak back into the heart’s left ventricle, and the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the body. When the condition develops over time, it’s called chronic. It may result from aging, rheumatic fever, enlargement of the aorta due to high blood pressure or hardening of the arteries, or having a damaged valve at birth. Acute cases happen suddenly and are commonly caused by a heart infection (endocarditis), a tear in the aorta (dissection), trauma or problems with a replacement valve.
Caused by the narrowing of the valve, aortic valve stenosis impedes the flow of blood, which weakens the heart and causes blood to back up into the lungs. It may be caused by a congenital heart defect, a build-up of calcium on the valve, rheumatic fever, or strep or other infections that weaken the valve.
When the mitral valve doesn’t close properly, mitral valve regurgitation can result, causing blood to flow back into the heart’s upper chambers. Chronic cases, when the condition develops gradually over time, are often caused by heart failure, rheumatic fever, a birth defect or the build-up of calcium on the valve. Acute cases happen suddenly and can stem from heart damage due to a heart attack or infection (endocarditis).
Tricuspid valve disease occurs when this function is impaired. The more common form of tricuspid disease, known as tricuspid regurgitation or insufficiency, occurs when the valve cannot close adequately, resulting in the backward leakage of blood into the right atrium with each heart contraction. Alternatively, the valve may become stiff and narrowed preventing the forward flow of blood from the atrium to the ventricle, known as tricuspid stenosis.
Diagnosing Heart Valve Conditions
Echocardiogram - A test that lets your doctor look at the heart valves to see if they are leaking.
Electrocardiogram (EKG) - A test that looks for abnormal heart rhythm.
Chest X-Ray - This test allows doctors to check the size and shape of heart valves and chambers.
Exercise Electrocardiogram - This EKG is conducted while you are exercising on a treadmill.
Cardiac Catheterization - Conducted through a tube threaded through an artery to your heart, this procedure shows whether blood is flowing backwards and how well valves are opening.
Cardiac MRI - This test produces a detailed picture of your heart to help your doctor confirm that a valve is damaged.
Medications Some people with heart valve disease need medications to reduce symptoms and to keep other problems from developing. Medications may also be useful for patients who cannot undergo surgery to correct a faulty valve. Doctors may prescribe one or more of the following drugs:
Vasodilators - These drugs, including ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers, open up blood vessels and may help blood flow in the right direction. Vasodilators help reduce high blood pressure and slow heart failure, which can result from valve disease.
Anti-Arrhythmia Drugs - Anti-arrhythmic medications help restore a normal heart rhythm.
Antibiotics - Antibiotics help prevent or treat infections affecting the heart valves. You may need them during routine dental work.
Anticoagulants - Also called blood thinners, anticoagulants help to prevent blood clots from forming and causing a stroke.
Beta Blockers - Beta-blocker medications make the heart beat slower, so it doesn’t have to work so hard. They may also reduce heart palpitations.
Diuretics - Diuretics reduce the amount of fluid around the heart to ease its workload.
Lifestyle Habits Changes in your diet and physical activity may be helpful for reducing symptoms and preventing the progression of valve disease. For instance, you may benefit from lowering the amount of salt in your diet to reduce fluid retention. Exercise reduces heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol and blood pressure and can also help you lose excess pounds or maintain a healthy weight.
Talk to your doctor about what changes are appropriate for you. In general, a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise and medicines prescribed for the prevention of heart-related problems, such as heart attack or high blood pressure, can also guard against heart valve disease.
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