Blood flows through the heart in a single direction: from the upper chambers (atria) to the lower chambers (ventricles) and then out of the heart. This unidirectional flow of blood is regulated by four valves present in the human heart:
Dysfunction of these valves prevents proper blood flow through the heart and results in heart valve disease. The condition often starts earlier in life, sometimes as early as childhood, but more common types only pose a major problem in the later years of life. Seniors therefore may have to consider heart valve replacement surgery despite having had the condition for decades.
For a valve to function optimally, it has to open wide to allow blood to flow through. When it shuts, it has to ensure there is a tight seal to prevent the backward flow of blood. Therefore, heart valve dysfunction can be one of two types:
Both valve stenosis and valve insufficiency make the heart work harder than normal to pump blood. This could ultimately lead to heart failure and death. Heart valve diseases could involve defects in either a single valve or in multiple valves.
Mild valve defects may not show any symptoms. The following are some of the symptoms seen when valve dysfunctions lead to serious impairment of blood flow and heart functions:
Heart murmurs heard through a stethoscope may be the first sign of a valve dysfunction. Electrocardiography (ECG), echocardiography, and chest X-rays are then used to arrive at a diagnosis.
Heart valve disease can either be congenital (present at birth) or acquired later on in life.
Congenital heart valve diseases mostly affect the aortic and pulmonary valves (the valves that regulate blood flow from ventricles to the main arteries leaving the heart). These valves may have deformed structures due to abnormal fetal development in the womb.
Acquired heart valve disease develops during the course of life for various possible reasons. The following are some of the risk factors that can lead to acquired heart valve diseases:
The treatment of heart valve diseases depends on many factors including the age of the patient, the medical history of the patient, severity of disease and type of valve dysfunction. Some of the treatment options include :