Heart Valve Disease

What is Heart Valve Disease?

Heart valve disease is where the valves in the heart that control the flow of blood through the heart are not working as they should. It is also called 'valvular heart disease'.

What are the symptoms of heart valve disease?

Sometimes the condition does not have any noticeable symptoms, however the main symptom of heart valve disease is being short of breath, especially when you are active and when lying down in bed. Other symptoms include...

  • Being too weak to undertake normal activities
  • Dizziness (and sometimes fainting)
  • Discomfort or feeling of a weight in your chest - this can be brought on by activity or moving from a warm environment to a cold one (eg stepping outside in winter)
  • Irregular heartbeat/heart palpitations
  • Swollen feet, ankles or abdomen
  • Rapid weight gain

What causes Heart Valve Disease?

Causes of heart valve disease are divided into two types...

1) Acquired heart valve disease

This is the most common cause of heart valve disease. This is where it is caused generally by an infection such as rheumatic fever or endocarditis (an infection of the inner lining of the heart). Rheumatic fever is a result of a bacterial infection (streptococcus throat infection) - Symptoms of resulting heart valve inflammation may not appear for 2-40 years later. Endocarditis is caused by bacteria that are transmitted via the blood, for example during surgery or dental procedures or via intravenous drug use.

Other conditions may also lead to heart valve disease, such as CHD, heart attack, cardiomyopathy, high blood pressure, aortic aneurysms, diseases affecting connective tissue, some tumours, as well as some medications and radiation. Heart valve disease may also be due to age related degeneration.

2) Congenital heart valve disease

This is where the valves are malformed in some way at birth. For example bicuspid aortic valve disease where the aortic valve has only two 'leaflets' (a small flap that guards the valve opening) instead of the usual three.

How is heart valve disease diagnosed?

An initial diagnosis is possible with the doctor listening to the heart to see if it is making the right 'noise'. He or she may also listen to your breathing to detect if there is any fluid retention in the lungs, which may indicate heart valve disease. This initial examination may be followed up by other tests, which may include...

  • Echocardiography
  • Transoesophageal echocardiography
  • Cardiac catheterisation (angiography)

How is heart valve disease treated?

In less severe cases of heart valve disease the best course of action may be to limit any further damage to the valves by following these guidelines...

  • Preventing infection - get medical assistance where you show any symptoms of infection (eg sore throat, aches etc) and take good care of teeth and gums
  • Taking antibiotics before any surgery or dental procedures
  • Taking some heart disease medications such as medication to prevent blood clotting and vasodilators which control blood pressure and blood flow

In more severe cases, surgery may be required to replace or repair damaged heart valves. These procedures can be carried out using conventional open surgery or using minimally invasive 'keyhole' surgical techniques.