Valvular Heart Disease

Valvular Heart Disease

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Valvular heart disease affects the valves of the heart. Only four valves service the heart. Their job is to allow the blood to flow through the heart in only one direction. To work properly, each valve must open and close completely at the right time.

Valvular Heart Disease

 

 

The heart valves can develop problems or disease for many reasons. Sometimes the valves are not normal at birth. Rheumatic fever can cause valve disease. Bacteria can infect the heart valves. Injured valves makes a sound as the blood passes through them. The sound is called a murmur and is best heard through a stethoscope. Not all murmurs mean that there is a valve problem.

 

A stenotic valve is stiff and cannot open well because it has narrowed. This makes it harder for blood to pass through it. It also may allow blood to leak backward through it. Treatment depends on how well the valve functions.

 

 

A valve that does not close completely, so that blood goes backwards, is referred to as “insufficient” or “incompetent.” This makes the heart work harder by causing it to pump some of the same blood twice. When this happens the heart, and one or more of its four chambers get bigger. Not all valve problems cause problems for the patient. Many people live a normal life with a small amount of valve disease.

 

Tests to diagnose valve problems include ultrasound testing, where sound waves are bounced off the heart valves to show how they move during the heart’s beating. Another test involves injecting a dye into the bloodstream while x-rays are taken of the heart.

 

 

By determining the cause of valvular heart disease, treatment can be targeted. Antibiotics may need to be given before certain procedures, such as dental work or surgery. This is done to prevent infections from starting on damaged heart valves. People who have had rheumatic fever may need to take antibiotics whenever they get a sore throat. Heart medicines may be required if valvular heart disease creates a strain on the heart. When the problem is serious, surgeons can replace the damaged valve.

 

 

For more information, contact your healthcare provider, or your local chapter of the American Heart Association.

 

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