Heart Disease Common Valvular

Heart valve disease and valvular disease are terms used to describe any heart disease or disorder involving the four valves that separate the chambers of the heart and move the blood from one chamber to another.

In a healthy heart, the blood passes through the tricuspid valve between the atrium and ventricle on the right side, then the pulmonic valve as it travels to the lungs. When blood returns from the lungs to the heart, it moves through the mitral valve, and then the aortic valve as it exits the heart for the rest of the body. The tricuspid and mitral valves operate together, then the aortic and pulmonic valves to produce the characteristic two-sound heartbeat.

All valves open in only one direction and blood flows only one way. Flaps of tissue block or allow the flow of blood, and in the mitral and tricuspid valves, the flaps are held in place by strands of tissue that anchor them to the walls of the heart.

Heart Valve Problems

Sometimes, the heart valves malfunction or become weak. When the valves don’t open properly, the forward progress of the blood may be held back. This condition, called valvular stenosis, can force the heart to work harder to move the blood. Valvular stenosis may prevent an adequate amount of blood from circulating around the body.

Blood may also flow backward or leak through a valve that does not completely close. This is called valvular insufficiency; when it happens in the mitral valve, it is called mitral valve prolapse. Mitral valve prolapse is a relatively common form of heart disease.

Causes and Symptoms of Valvular Disease

Valvular disease is most often caused by rheumatic fever, birth defects, infection or aging. Some patients who have one form of heart valve disease also have another: A patient with valvular stenosis in the tricuspid valve may have insufficiency in the mitral valve.

A doctor can diagnose some forms of heart valve disease using a stethoscope to listen for the “lub-dub” sound pattern of a normal heartbeat. Additional sounds can indicate a murmur, or backward flow of blood. An extra clicking sound may suggest mitral prolapse. An echocardiogram, an MRI or a radionuclide scan can provide additional information. For more on murmurs and heart disease, see our section on valvular disease.

The following symptoms may contribute to a diagnosis of valvular disease:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat, palpitations or a flip-flop feeling in the chest
  • Rapid weight gain (sometimes up to three pounds in a day)
  • Swelling of the feet, ankles or abdomen.

Prevention and Treatment

Preventing valvular disease is not easy. Those who have been diagnosed with a heart valve disease like mitral valve prolapse need to work hard to prevent complications and infections.

If you’ve been diagnosed with valvular disease, see your doctor regularly and pay close attention to your symptoms. Let your doctor know if you experience infections, flu, colds or a sore throat, and take good care of your teeth and gums to lower your infection risk.

Medications for valvular disease may be administered to control symptoms and prevent complications. For severe cases of heart valve disease, surgery may be necessary.

Resources

Cleveland Clinic. (2010). Valve disease. Retrieved October 26, 2010, from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/disorders/valve.aspx

Columbia Department of Surgery. (2010). Cardiac diseases, valvular disease. Retrieved October 26, 2010, from http://www.cumc.columbia.edu/dept/cs/pat/cardiac/valve.html

Medline Plus. (2010). Heart valve diseases. Retrieved October 26, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heartvalvediseases.html