Heart Valve Disease

Heart Valve Disease

Our hearts have four valves:  the aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid valves.  They work together to keep blood flowing in the correct direction; through the heart’s chambers and to the rest of the body. 

Heart valve disease occurs when one or more of our heart valves do not work properly, disrupting the flow of blood throughout our bodies.  This disease can be congenital (developing before birth) or acquired (developing after birth). Heart valve disease can lead to serious complications such as stroke, heart failure, blood clots, heart rhythms abnormalities or death.

The three main problems encountered in heart valve disease are:

  • Stenosis- which occurs when the flaps of a heart valve do not fully open due to the thickening of valve tissue. This makes the heart work harder to pump blood which can lead to heart failure. Stenosis can develop as a result of a buildup of calcium or other deposits on the valves. 
  • Regurgitation – this happens when the valve doesn’t close all the way. If our valves do not close correctly this will cause blood to leak backward into the heart and less blood to flow to our bodies.
  • Atresia- this is present at birth and occurs as a result of the valve not being developed. Instead of a valve, a piece of tissue forms that restricts the flow of blood.

Stenosis and regurgitation can be caused by pre-existing heart conditions, age-related changes, rheumatic fever or infections. There are no known causes for atresia.

Some people with heart valve disease may not experience symptoms during the early stages of the disease. When symptoms present they can include:

  • A heart murmur or an unusual heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting
  • Swollen ankles, feet or belly

Several factors can increase the risk of heart valve disease. Risk factors include:

  • Older age ( As you age your heart valves become stiffer and thicker)
  • A history  of infective endocarditis
  • Rheumatic fever resulting from an untreated strep infection
  • Heart conditions present at birth
  • Atherosclerosis (buildup of plaque inside the arteries),  heart attack, advanced heart failure or other conditions that can cause harm to the heart valves

If you are experiencing symptoms of heart valve disease, you should inform your doctor.   A physical examination will be conducted during which your doctor will listen for a heart murmur.  Your doctor may order a series of diagnostic tests such as an echocardiography, chest X-ray, cardiac MRI or electrocardiogram to evaluate your heart’s health. 

Treatment for heart valve disease may include surgery or medications. Your doctor will most likely recommend that you make heart-healthy lifestyle changes.

To schedule an appointment with a  cardiologist at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, please call 718-206-7100.