Key Points about Heart Valve Disease
- Heart valve disease can be caused by certain infections, congenital heart conditions and other heart conditions.
- Diagnosis of heart valve disease may include a physical exam, imaging tests and a stress test.
- Treatment for heart valve disease can include medications, lifestyle changes or surgery.
OverviewWhen a person has heart valve disease, one or more of their four heart valves aren’t working correctly. When the valves don’t work correctly, blood flow to the rest of the body can be interrupted and serious complications can occur. If heart valve disease is not treated correctly, it can lead to heart failure, stroke or blood clots.
Heart valve disease causes
Causes of heart valve disease include:
- Congenital (present at birth) heart conditions
- Other heart conditions
Heart valve disease risk factors
Factors that can increase your risk for developing heart valve disease include:
- A congenital heart condition
- A history of certain infections that can affect your heart
- A history of certain types of heart disease
- Being older
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High cholesterol (hyperlipidemia)
Heart valve disease symptoms
In some cases, those with heart valve disease may not experience any symptoms. When they do occur, signs and symptoms of heart valve disease can include:
- Abdominal swelling
- Chest pain
- Heart murmur (extra sound in a heartbeat)
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Shortness of breath, particularly after you’ve been physically active or you lie down
- Swelling in your ankles or feet
Heart valve disease diagnosis
To confirm a diagnosis of heart valve disease, your doctor may use one or more of the following tests:
- Echocardiography. This test uses sound waves to capture detailed images of your heart and valves.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG). This test measures the electrical impulses from your heart. Your doctor can also use an ECG to check for enlarged areas of your heart, as well as abnormal heart rate.
- Imaging test. Your doctor may order imaging tests – such as a chest X-ray or cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – to obtain detailed images of your heart and valves.
- Physical examination. Your doctor will conduct a thorough physical exam, including asking questions about your personal and family health history and listening for a heart murmur (a sign of heart valve disease).
- Stress test. During this test, your doctor monitors your heart activity while you exercise.
Heart valve disease treatment
Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments for heart valve disease:
- Heart valve surgery. If more conservative treatment options are not enough to manage your heart valve disease, you may need to undergo heart valve surgery. During these surgeries, your surgeon will repair or replace your malfunctioning heart valve. When possible, your surgeon will use minimally invasive techniques to minimize your downtime and scarring after surgery. Balloon valvotomy is one type of minimally invasive heart valve surgery.
- Lifestyle modifications. You may need to make changes to your lifestyle, such as eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly and quitting smoking.
- Medications. You may need to take prescription medicine to help manage your heart valve disease. Medication can help your heart valves function more normally and keep blood flowing.
- Regular follow-up care. You may need to see your cardiologist for regular follow-up visits to ensure that your heart valve disease treatment works as expected.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a cardiologist for more specialized treatment.