Valvular heart disease is a condition that occurs when any valve in the heart is diseased. Valvular heart disease can impact any of the heart’s valves: the tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral, and aortic. These gateways allow blood to flow through the heart and out into the arteries. More generally, heart valves ensure that blood flows in a forward direction. They also prevent leakage or back-ups.
Blood flows to the rest of the body from the upper and lower chambers of the heart. Heart valves open and close to ensure that blood can flow undisrupted. Valvular heart disease, also referred to as valvulopathy, occurs when this mechanism is damaged.
There are four types of valvular heart disease: valvular regurgitation, mitral valve prolapse, valvular stenosis, and bicuspid aortic valve disease. A person can experience more than one type of valvular heart disease at a time. If you think you may have this condition, it is essential to see a cardiologist as soon as possible, especially is symptoms are disruptive. Early treatment and management can improve quality of life.
There are four different types of valvular heart disease: valvular regurgitation, mitral valve prolapse, valvular stenosis, and bicuspid aortic valve disease.
Valvular heart disease has a range of possible causes. Some valvular heart diseases are caused by congenital defects. Other valvular heart diseases are attributed to aging. There is no one singular cause of valvular heart disease. In fact, a number of conditions can cause or increase risk of valvular heart disease. The list below outlines conditions that could eventually cause someone to develop valvular heart disease.
It is possible for some people to experience asymptomatic valvular heart disease. Mild cases of valvular heart disease are common and often go completely undetected. However, symptomatic valvular heart disease can pose a critical threat to a person’s health.
An irregular heart rate, heart murmur, water retention, or pulmonary edema are strong indications of valvular heart disease, regardless of which type might be the ultimate diagnosis. While the four valvular heart diseases do share some symptoms, each is distinct enough to warrant knowledge of the warning signs.
Aging is likely the biggest risk factor for developing valvular heart disease. Aside from old age, risk for valvular heart disease is associated with a myriad of other health complications. Valvular heart disease often develops as a result of an existing condition, some of which are listed below.
A doctor checks for symptoms of valvular heart disease at a routine physical. During the check-up, a doctor will monitor the patient’s heart rate to identify irregularities, check their lungs for fluid buildup, and look for any indication of swelling, or water retention. These are all strong indicators of valvular heart disease.
Other methods of diagnosis may include:
Treatment plans for valvular heart disease vary based on the type of valvular heart disease and the severity of symptoms. Initial treatment for a mild case of valvular heart disease could include increasing medical supervision, quitting smoking, and creating a healthy diet plan.
Medications for valvular heart disease include diuretics to decrease fluid retention, vasodilators to dilate blood vessels, and beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers to regulate blood flow and heart rate.
Valvular heart disease is not as common as other heart diseases, though cases are on the rise due to longer life expectancies. Some cases of valvular heart disease are congenital, meaning the patient is born with a defect that causes the disease. Not all cases of valvular heart disease are congenital.
Additionally, valvular heart disease is different from other types of heart disease because it specifically targets the flow of blood between the heart’s valves, and beyond. Coronary artery disease, for example, targets the heart’s major blood vessels.
Some mild cases of valvular heart disease will not present symptoms at all. That being said, patients with abnormal symptoms should involve a doctor in the treatment process as soon as they notice those symptoms. Treatment plans can be extremely involved, with frequent supervision, medications, or even surgery. The support of a dedicated care team is invaluable to a patient with valvular heart disease. Even an extremely mild case of valvular heart disease would prompt routine physicals and extra checkups for any new symptoms that arise.
An early diagnosis means that treatment can begin as soon, and as aggressively, as possible.
Valvular heart disease is not a universal experience, and the severity of cases varies from patient to patient. Mild cases of valvular heart disease will often present no symptoms. They can also have very little impact on the patient’s life. Some people can have valvular heart disease without ever knowing of their condition.
However, more severe valvular heart disease can cause disruptive symptoms. Untreated valvular heart disease can result in serious health ramifications. Treatment and outlook for people with valvular heart disease differ based on the type and severity of valvular heart disease. Patients with valvular heart disease should expect a healthy life expectancy, and quality of life, if their treatment plan includes the necessary maintenance, medication, or surgery.