What is valvular heart disease?

Valvular heart disease forms when there’s damage to either your aortic, mitral, pulmonary or tricuspid valve. With valvular heart disease, the valves become stiff and start to constrict. Because of its hardened state, the valves cannot open or close properly, and as a result, blood backs up into the nearby heart chamber. Blood also leaks into the heart chamber it initially left. In response to poor oxygenation, the heart starts to thicken and becomes large, and because of this, it loses its elasticity and is unable to function correctly. Blood that pools in the heart chamber can clot and this increases your risk of pulmonary embolism or stroke.

The different types of valvular heart diseases include:

  • Aortic stenosis: Aortic stenosis develops when your aortic valve constricts, and this affects blood flow to your aorta.
  • Aortic regurgitation: Aortic regurgitation occurs when your aortic valve doesn't close properly. Because of this condition, blood flows back into your left ventricle.
  • Aortic sclerosis: Aortic sclerosis arises from an abnormally thick aortic valve.
  • Mitral stenosis: Mitral stenosis happens when the opening of your mitral valve constricts, and this affects blood flow to your left ventricle.
  • Mitral regurgitation: When your mitral valve doesn’t close adequately, mitral regurgitation occurs, and because of this, blood returns to your heart.
  • Tricuspid diseases: When your tricuspid valve doesn't function as it should, you could have a tricuspid disease. Tricuspid valve regurgitation, tricuspid valve stenosis and tricuspid atresia are all forms of tricuspid diseases that affect blood flow throughout your heart.

How do I know I have valvular heart disease?

Signs of valvular heart disease can occur unexpectedly or progress over time. If the progression of the heart disease is slow, you may not be able to notice signs of the disease as your heart adjusts to the condition. Sometimes, valvular heart disease could be severe and yet you may still be unaware of the condition. A thorough diagnosis is the best way to nip valvular heart disease in the bud.

Similar to congestive heart failure, when signs do occur, valvular heart disease may present general symptoms that include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Fainting
  • Weight gain
  • Fever

What are some of the reasons for valvular heart disease?

Valvular heart disease could be a congenital condition or may arise from degeneration of your heart valve, bacterial endocarditis, high blood pressure or a heart attack. Possible causes of valvular heart disease include:

  • Rheumatic fever
  • Carcinoid tumours
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Migraine headache medications

What does the diagnosis of valvular heart disease involve?

Before Dr Xana can discuss treatment plans with you and your family, he will conduct a physical examination to check for heart irregularities or

what is known as a heart murmur. If the results from a physical exam are inconclusive, the doctor performs the following tests to diagnose valvular heart disease:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): An ECG detects a heart murmur, hypertrophy (thick heart muscle) or heart damage as a result of coronary artery disease.
  • Stress tests: A stress test measures your heart rate and detects high blood pressure.
  • Chest x-rays: A chest x-ray reveals a large and abnormal heart.
  • Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram detects heart abnormalities in terms of your heart’s size, shape and function.
  • Cardiac catheterisation: Your cardiologist threads a catheter into your heart’s chambers to diagnosis stenosis. Through cardiac catheterisation, your cardiologist can pick up the backflow of blood into the heart's chamber.

How does my cardiologist treat valvular heart disease?

If you are asymptomatic, Dr Xana will closely monitor your condition before he can pursue any line of treatment. Usually, treatment depends on the cause and extent of valvular heart disease. Antibiotics form the first line of treatment to fight against a streptococcal infection. Other surgical procedures to fix or repair a faulty valve include:

  • Balloon dilation: To dilate a narrow stenotic valve, your cardiologist inserts and inflates a balloon in the constricted area.
  • Valve surgery (fix or replace a valve): Valve surgery depends on your age and the severity of your heart condition. Your cardiologist will either replace or repair your valve. Replacement valves are either artificial or comprise of animal tissue.