Heart Valve Disease
- What is heart valve disease?
- Is heart valve disease congenital or acquired?
- What are the symptoms of heart valve disease?
- How long does heart valve disease last?
- Can heart valve disease be prevented?
What is heart valve disease?
The heart has four valves, the aortic, mitral, tricuspid and pulmonary. They are essential to ensure that blood runs in one direction only. They open to allow blood to be pumped forward, then close to prevent the blood from flowing backwards.
Malformation of a heart valve can be divided into two categories:
- Stenosis the opening of a valve is too narrow, affecting the forward flow of blood.
- Regurgitation The valve doesn't close properly, causing leaking. This can result in a significant backflow of blood.
Is heart valve disease congenital or acquired?
It can be either. Heart valve disease can be congenital (present at birth). It is thought that many congenital cases of heart valve disease are caused by genetic (inherited) factors.
Heart valve disease can also be acquired. This can be caused by a number of things including:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure).
- Syphilis (a sexually transmitted disease).
- Rheumatic fever (an inflammatory illness).
What are the symptoms of heart valve disease?
In mild cases there are no symptoms. Even in serious cases few symptoms may show. When symptoms are present, they may vary according to the valve that is affected.
Congenital heart valve disease can cause cyanosis (a bluish colour seen on the lips), and symptoms of heart failure (for example, shortness of breath, accumulation of fluid in the body, fainting).
Aortic stenosis (narrowing of the aortic valve) often produces no symptoms until the valve has narrowed significantly. Then symptoms can include angina, fainting and shortness of breath after exertion.
Aortic regurgitation (leaking of the aortic valve) may not produce symptoms for years also. When they do begin, they may include palpitations, arrhythmia, angina and breathlessness while lying down.
Mitral stenosis (narrowing of the mitral valve) can produce symptoms of arrhythmia, shortness of breath after exertion and coughing up blood.
Mitral regurgitation (leaking of the mitral valve) can produce symptoms of fatigue, breathlessness after exertion, and breathlessness while lying down.
Pulmonic valve problems can produce symptoms of fatigue and fainting spells.
Tricuspid stenosis (narrowing of the tricuspid valve) can produce fatigue and symptoms of heart failure.
Tricuspid regurgitation (leaking of the tricuspid valve) can cause symptoms of heart failure, especially heart-related breathing problems.
How long does heart valve disease last?
Unfortunately heart valve disease usually stays with a person throughout their life. It may also worsen over time.
Can heart valve disease be prevented?
It depends. It is sometimes possible to avoid acquired heart valve disease. The main way of doing this is to avoid getting rheumatic fever. This can occur if you allow strep throat to go untreated. Therefore if you get strep throat, ensure you seek medical treatment for it and follow the orders you are given. If given antibiotics, it is imperative that you finish the full course, even if the strep throat appears to have cleared up.
Unfortunately there is no way to prevent the majority of congenital heart valve problems.
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