Understanding Valvular Heart Disease

There are four valves that control the flow of blood through the four chambers of the heart. Disease can affect these valves in two ways.

Stenosis is a narrowing of the valve so that blood cannot move through as freely as necessary.

Regurgitation is a failure of the one-way valve so that blood flows back through the valve in the wrong direction.

The valves most commonly affected by disease are the mitral valve, which controls flow of the blood from the left upper chamber, or atrium, to the left lower chamber, and the aortic valve, which controls blood flow out of the left ventricle to the rest of the body.

Common symptoms of valvular heart disease may include:

  • Weakness on exertion,
  • rapid heartbeat,
  • chest discomfort,
  • fainting spells,
  • there may be no symptoms at all.

Valvular heart disease may be caused by damage to the heart muscle as a result of rheumatic fever or a congenital abnormality. Its danger is that it causes the heart muscle to become overworked and further damaged if untreated.

Valvular heart problems can be corrected surgically, by direct repair of the valve, replacement of the damaged valve with an artificial valve, or by a nonsurgical technique called balloon valvuloplasty.

Consult your healthcare provider if you experience symptoms of valvular heart disease. These are serious symptoms that can have a variety of causes. If you have had valvular heart disease, you are susceptible to bacterial endocarditis and should take antibiotics before certain dental and surgical procedures.

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