Is Heart Valve Disease Life-Threatening?
A heart valve disease can refer to any of the several conditions that stop one or more valves from functioning appropriately and ensure proper circulation of the blood pumped by the heart. If left untreated, heart valve disease turns into a life-threatening situation. If detected in the early stages, restoring the functionality of damaged heart valve is possible with the help of surgical repair that involves replacement of the heart valve.
Understanding heart valve disease helps in reaching out for medical assistance at the right time. The human heart has four valves – mitral, pulmonary, aortic, and tricuspid. All the four valves ensure that the blood pumped by the heart flow in one direction. Each of the valves consists of flaps that open and close for every heartbeat. The closing of the flaps helps in preventing the blood flow into the heart.
Occurrence of Heart Valve Disease
The common causes behind the phenomenon of heart valve disease include congenital disabilities, rheumatic fever, infection, and degeneration over a period. Vascular insufficiency or vascular stenosis is a common form of infection.
Vascular stenosis is a situation where the flaps within the valve become stiff causing the opening and closing a difficult operation. Due to this, there is a reduction in the flow of the blood pumped by the heart. The narrowness of the valve opening progresses slowly, and over a period there is a reduction in the function of the heart. When the restriction reaches the stenosis state, the reduced functionality of the heart affects the overall health because the heart fails to supply the required quantity of blood.
Vascular insufficiency is another condition that can lead to a life-threatening situation. In this case, the valve becomes leaky, or the flaps do not close completely. Because of this, there is backward flow. The heart functions under extreme conditions and works out harder to make up for the backward flow. It increases the stress on the functionality and reduces the flow of blood to different parts of the body.
Although in many situations, patients suffer from either vascular insufficiency or vascular stenosis, a few may experience from both the problems.
Although it is not possible to sense the presence of heart valve disease in the initial stage, one can notice the changes over a period. The following symptoms appear and require immediate medical assistance:
- Chest discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of consciousness
- Weight gain.
Diagnosing Heart Valve Disease
Physical examination will reveal the information related to an enlarged heart of the presence of fluid in the lungs. Apart from this, a few tests such as an echocardiogram, cardiac catheterization, electrocardiogram, MRI scan, and CT scan provide results about the heart valve disease and its condition.
Depending on the severity, the doctor chooses to perform the tests at frequent intervals to monitor the progression. Such a step is necessary for understanding the condition and take an appropriate decision about the treatment.
Treating a Heart Valve Disease
Upon noticing the presence of a heart valve disease, the doctor can prescribe medication or surgery. Opting for operation is essential for those who are suffering from severe symptoms. The surgery requires a replacement of the heart valve with that of a mechanical valve or a biological valve. The mechanical valve functions for the entire lifespan. However, the individual requires the use of warfarin, a blood-thinning medicine. The biological valve has a maximum lifespan of 15 years. Although the user does not need the use of warfarin, he/she may require another replacement.
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