What do we mean by Valvular Heart Disease?
Valvular Heart Disease is a pathological condition of the cardiovascular system which is characterized by damage to the valves of the heart namely mitral valve, tricuspid valve, pulmonary valve, and aortic valve.
The mitral and tricuspid valves function by regulating the flow of blood between the upper and lower chambers of the heart while the function of the pulmonary valve is to regulate flow of blood to and from the lungs to the heart. The aortic valve regulates blood flow from aorta to the rest of the body.
It is the aortic and the mitral valves which normally get damaged as a result of Valvular Heart Disease.
The damage to the valves result in the valves getting narrow resulting in inadequate flow of blood between the valves. This adversely affects the pumping action of the heart. To compensate the poor pumping ability of the heart, the heart muscles get enlarged causing it to lose efficiency in its function.
There may also be some accumulation of blood in the chambers of the heart which may result in pulmonary embolism or stroke as a result of Valvular Heart Disease.
Valvular Heart Disease is a condition which is quite variable in its severity. While in some cases it may be mild and there is virtually no damage to the valves, there are some cases where there is significant damage done to the valves of the heart resulting in numerous complications like congestive heart failure to name a few as a result of Valvular Heart Disease.
What Causes Valvular Heart Disease?
- There are numerous cases of Valvular Heart Disease. In some cases, a child is born with this condition suggesting a genetic link to this condition. Some of the other causes of Valvular Heart Disease are degeneration of the tissues of the heart valve with age of an individual.
- An underlying medical condition named rheumatic fever has also been found to be one of the causes of Valvular Heart Disease. Enlargement of the endocardium due to bacterial infection is also believed to be a cause of Valvular Heart Disease.
- Uncontrolled hypertension along with hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis is also one of the causes of Valvular Heart Disease.
- Heart attack also damages the valves of the heart resulting in Valvular Heart Disease. Autoimmune disorders like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis is also one of the causes of Valvular Heart Disease.
What Are The Symptoms Of Valvular Heart Disease?
The symptoms of Valvular Heart Disease can be sudden onset depending on the extent and severity of the disease condition. If there is slow progression of the condition, then the affected individual may not notice any symptoms till the disease has reached an advanced stage. In some cases, an individual may be completely asymptomatic and have severe Valvular Heart Disease while in other cases even a small damage can cause severe symptoms in an individual. Some of the common symptoms associated with Valvular Heart Disease are:
- Audible wheezing with minimal activity
- Shortness of breath with minimal activity
- Edema of the lower extremities
- Mild chest pain
- Persistent fatigue
- Significant weight gain
How Is Valvular Heart Disease Diagnosed?
In order to diagnose Valvular Heart Disease, the physician will first conduct a physical examination based on the symptoms experienced by the patient. An auscultation and percussion around the chest area will reveal audible heart murmurs pointing towards a Valvular Heart Disease.
Once Valvular Heart Disease is suspected, the physician will order a battery of tests like an EKG to check the electrical activity of the heart or any irregularity of the heartbeat. This may be followed by stress test to check the blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate during exertion. Radiographs to include a chest x-ray may be done to check the status of the heart and the area surrounding it.
2D or a 3D echo may be done to check for any abnormality in the functioning of the heart. A cardiac catheterization is finally done where a catheter is inserted in the heart which has a minature camera to inspect the heart closely which will clearly show damaged heart valves confirming the diagnosis of Valvular Heart Disease.
How Is Valvular Heart Disease Treated?
Valvular Heart Disease is a condition which can easily be treated and even prevented by certain lifestyle modifications like abstaining from smoking and alcohol, and restricting salt intake to control the blood pressure which is one of the causes of Valvular Heart Disease.
For mild cases of Valvular Heart Disease, the physician may not offer any treatment and choose to observe the patient for any worsening of the condition. In cases where bacterial condition is believed to be the cause of Valvular Heart Disease then antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the infection.
The patient may also be given medications to prevent clot formation especially in patients who have experienced ischemic attacks as a result of Valvular Heart Disease. In case if the patient is discovered to have atrial fibrillation then anticoagulation medications will be prescribed.
To correct the damaged valve, a procedure may be done to either repair the damaged valve or replace it with an artificial valve to treat Valvular Heart Disease.
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