Nearly 5 million people are diagnosed with heart valve disease yearly (MedicineNet). Like every other part of the body, the valves of the heart are also susceptible to disease. Disease of the heart valve, in a nutshell, is when the valves of the heart do not work properly. The valves of the heart have one main function, and that is to assist in blood flow. Heart valves partially control blood flow through the heart. We talk about someone having the keys to your heart, but in a way, the heart valves are the doors to your heart.
The heart consists of four valves. Each valve does the same thing, but they are just located in different areas. There are four total chambers in the heart. The mitral valve and the tricuspid valve separate the upper and lower chambers of the heart. The aortic valve sits between the aorta and the heart, and the pulmonary valve sits between the pulmonary valve and the heart. The valves open to let blood flow and close again to keep blood from leaking back into the previous chamber. Blood is only supposed to flow in one direction; that leakage makes some of the blood flow backwards. Disease in the heart valve disrupts blood flow and ultimately affects the heart.
Valves contain leaflets that work as doors. The leaflets can be the part of the valve that is diseased. The valve itself may also have problems. Valvular stenosis is the narrowing of the heart valves. A person can be born with narrow heart valves, but normally the heart valves become narrow with age. All four valves are susceptible to stenosis. The leaflets of the heart can become fused together and get stiff. When the leaflets are stiff, they cannot open as wide. The hardening of the heart valves makes blood flow difficult. The heart has to pump harder which in the long run can lead to heart failure.
Valvular regurgitation is another common disease. It is also called a leaky valve. When the valves do not close tightly, blood may leak and flow backwards. All the blood does not flow backwards but it is enough to cause the heart to work harder. Valve leakage may be very mild at first but it tends to worsen. The leaflets of the heart will continue to weaken and like a leaky door; the seal will not be strong enough to keep blood from flowing backwards. The more blood that flows backwards, the harder the heart will work. This too can lead to heart failure.
Heart Valve Disease Causation
Heart valvular disease can come from many different things. It can be congenital, meaning you are born with it. Heart conditions diagnosed at birth are usually fixed immediately. If you do not fix the condition as soon as possible, the body will suffer. Age is also a factor in valvular disease. Calcium deposits may build up on the valves which lead to the hardening of the leaflets. Calcium buildup is something most often seen in elderly. Bacteria may also lead to valvular disease. Rheumatic fever occurs from a bacterial infection; strep is the most common source of rheumatic fever. When it is untreated, strep leads to inflammation of the valves of the heart. The inflammation may scar those valves. This makes the valves harder and thicker. They may also become shorter which leads to leakage.
Endocarditis is a result of bacteria in the blood stream which also causes scarring but this time by creating holes in the heart valves. The bacteria may also grow on those valves. Mitral valve prolapse (MVP) may not be as familiar to you, but it is a very common disease affecting nearly 2% of the population. This disease affects the mitral valve specifically. Most doors only open one way. There are a few that can open both ways. The valves of the heart should only open one way. In mitral valve prolapse, the leaflets of the valve open backwards causing leakage. The tissues of the valve will begin to stretch. Other problems such as heart attacks and drugs may also result in valve disease.
- Shortness of breath
- Weight gain
- Swelling of the feet, ankles, or stomach
These symptoms may not only be associated with valvular disease; but if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see a physician.
Disease of the valves may not seem serious in the beginning but the constant overworking of the heart leads to more severe problems. Mitral valve prolapse is probably the least severe of all the possible valve diseases. In most cases, it does not cause symptoms and does not affect the heart. The other diseases require treatment. That treatment may be valve repair or valve replacement. Valve disease can be avoided if heart attacks and hypertension cause it. Be conscious of what is going on with your heart. Simply changing your diet can change your heart health.
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