The human heart has four valves that work together to regulate blood flow in and out of the heart.
Sometimes, though, a valve can malfunction, resulting in a medical condition called valvular heart disease. About 2.5% of Americans suffer from valvular heart disease, experiencing a range of symptoms that vary from mild to severe and life-threatening.
Here’s what you should know about valvular heart disease, including symptoms to look out for.
What is valvular heart disease?
Your heart contains four valves:
- Aortic valve
- Mitral valve
- Pulmonary valve
- Tricuspid valve
When they’re healthy, these valves open and close in a specific, coordinated way to keep blood moving at a steady rate in one direction.
Most types of valvular heart disease involve the aortic valve or the mitral valve.
The aortic valve is on the left side of the heart, separating the upper chamber (left ventricle) from the large aorta artery. The mitral valve is also on the left side of the heart, separating the lower chamber (left atrium) from the left ventricle.
Typically, valvular heart disease occurs because the valves don’t open properly or because they don’t close completely.
When a valve is stiff or otherwise doesn’t open the way it’s supposed to, it can prevent blood from entering the heart at a normal rate. When the valves don’t close tightly, blood can seep backward, a condition called regurgitation.
Causes and symptoms of valvular heart disease
Lots of factors can cause or contribute to valvular heart disease, including:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
- Age-related changes
- Birth defects
- Genetic conditions
Aortic valve disease tends to become more common with older age, as age-related changes cause the valve to become stiff — a condition known as aortic valve stenosis.
When your heart valves malfunction, your heart needs to work harder to circulate enough blood to keep your body working the way it’s supposed to. As a result, many people with valvular heart disease experience symptoms like:
- Feeling faint or fainting
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the feet or ankles
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat or “fluttering”
Like other types of heart disease, getting prompt medical attention is essential. Without treatment, valvular disease can eventually lead to heart failure and death.
At Vein & Cardiovascular Center, Dr. Pal uses cardiopulmonary testing, imaging, and other techniques to diagnose valvular heart disease early, so the disease can be treated before more serious problems develop.
Keep your heart healthy
More than 30 million Americans have heart disease, making it the leading cause of death among both women and men.
The good news: There are innovative, safe, and effective treatments that can help relieve your symptoms and improve your heart health — and your overall quality of life.
If you’re having unusual symptoms or you’d like to schedule a cardiovascular evaluation, call the office or use our online form to schedule an appointment today.