Heart Valve Diseases: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Dr. Soumya Guha
Consultant – Cardio Thoracic & Vascular Surgeon

Heart valve disease is a medical condition that affects the valves within the heart. The human heart consists of four valves—the aortic valve, mitral valve, tricuspid valve, and pulmonary valve—that play a crucial role in regulating blood flow. These valves open and close in a synchronized manner to ensure that blood flows in the right direction and at the right pace.

When someone has heart valve disease, it means that one or more of these valves are not functioning properly. This can occur primarily in two ways:

Stenosis: Valve stenosis occurs when a valve becomes narrow and stiff, restricting the flow of blood to the body. This makes the heart work harder to pump blood through the narrowed valve.

Regurgitation: Valve regurgitation, also known as insufficiency or incompetence, happens when a valve doesn’t close properly, allowing blood to leak backward. This forces the heart to pump blood in two directions, causing extra strain on the heart.

Causes of Heart Valve Disease

Heart valve disease can develop for various reasons, and while some cases may be linked to congenital factors, others are the result of acquired conditions. Understanding the underlying causes of heart valve disease is effective for successful prevention and treatment. Here, we’ll explore the primary causes:

1.   Rheumatic Fever

Untreated rheumatic fever can lead to inflammation in the heart, which ultimately leads to damage to the heart valves.

2.   Infective Endocarditis

This is an infection of the heart’s inner lining, which can affect the heart valves. Bacterial or fungal infections can lead to damage or scarring of the heart valves, impairing their ability to open and close properly.

3.   Heart Attack

A heart attack can damage the heart muscle and the valves, especially when the blood supply to the heart is compromised. The resulting scar tissue can prevent the valve from functioning normally.

Other minor factors contributing to heart valve diseases are as follows:

  1. High blood pressure
  2. Degeneration or calcium deposition that leads to loss of function over time
  3. Aortic aneurism, or swelling that stretches the valve flaps

Symptoms of Heart Valve Diseases

It’s important to note that symptoms of heart valve disease may develop gradually, and, in some cases, individuals may not experience any symptoms at all. Depending on the type and severity of the condition, the symptoms may vary. Some common symptoms are:

  1. Shortness of breath, particularly during any physical activity or when lying flat
  2. Irregular heartbeats or a feeling of fluttering in the heart
  3. Feeling unusually fatigued or tired, even with minimal physical exertion
  4. Edema or swelling, particularly in the ankles, feet, legs, or abdomen
  5. Sudden gain in weight can be a sign of fluid retention due to heart valve disease.

Treatment of Heart Valve Disease

Effective treatment for heart valve diseases is essential to improve the overall condition of the heart. The choice of treatment depends on the type, location, and severity of the valve condition, as well as the patient’s overall health. Here are some key treatment options:

1.   Medications

In mild cases, medications are prescribed to manage the symptoms and slow the progression of the condition. Common medications are given to reduce fluid buildup, prevent blood clots, and control blood pressure and heart rate.

2.   Surgical Repairing

Where the disease is severe and is affecting the patient’s life significantly, surgical repair or replacement is suggested, depending on the extent of the damage and the place of damage.

  • Heart Valve Repair

This procedure includes repairing holes, separating affected parts, repositioning leaflets, or removing excess tissue.

  • Heart Valve Replacement

It means replacing an existing valve with either a mechanical or a tissue-based valve. Mechanical valves need blood thinners to prevent clots from forming for life. On the other hand, for tissue-based valves, it may start showing degeneration in next 15-20 years.

3.   Follow-Up Care

After valve repair or replacement, patients should be under ongoing follow-up care to monitor their heart health, including regular echocardiograms and assessments to ensure the valves are functioning optimally.

4.   Lifestyle Modifications

Patients with a history of heart valve disease are often advised to make lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a heart-healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and avoiding smoking. These changes can help improve overall cardiovascular health.

It’s crucial for individuals with heart valve diseases to work closely with their doctors and heart specialists to develop a personalized treatment plan that aligns with their needs and goals. By making appropriate lifestyle changes, patients can manage their condition and enjoy a better quality of life. If you suspect you have heart valve disease or are experiencing symptoms, seek medical guidance promptly to determine the most suitable treatment path.