by Kimberly Allen RN
Heart valve diseases are conditions that affect the way one or more of the valves in the heart function. There are four chambers or compartments in the heart, the two upper chambers are called the atria and the two lower chambers are called the ventricles. There are four valves that regulate the blood flow as it enters and leaves each chamber. They prevent the blood from flowing backward. the tricuspid valve is the one between the right atrium ans right ventricle, between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery is the pulmonary valve. the mitral valve is the one between the left atrium and the left ventricle and the arotic valve is the one between the left ventricle and the aorta.
The heart valves open and close in a specific pattern allowing the blood to flow into the ventricles and then out into the body at specific alternating times, like this, as soon as the left ventricle contracts the aortic valve closes and the mitral valve opens simultaneously to allow the blood to go from the left atrium into the left ventricle. Then the left atrium contracts and more blood goes into the left ventricle and when the left ventricle contracts the mitral valve will close while the aortic valve opens allowing the blood to flow out into the body. At the same time the same pattern is occurring on the right side of the heart as it pumps the deoxygenated blood returning from the body into the lungs to be reoxygenated. A problem with any one of the valves can cause potentially serious problems with the function of the heart.
There are a variety of factors that can cause heart valve disease. The most common cause used to be rheumatic fever but with improved antibiotic therapy rheumatic fever is now a rare occurrence in the US. However, there are other infections that can cause valve damage, such as syphilis. Heart attacks and even age can cause changes to heart valves. There are also certain congenital birth defects that are responsible for valve malfunction.
There are two main types of malfunction that can occur:
1. Valve leakage or regurgitation occurs when a valve does not completely close allowing blood to flow backward. This forces the heart to pump more blood through the valve on the next contraction increasing it’s workload.
2. Valve stenosis or the narrowing of a valve limits the amount of blood passing in or out of the chamber. This forces the heart to pump harder in order to push the blood through the stiffened valve.
These malfunctions can develop in any one of the heart valves, they can affect more than one valve at the same time and both malfunctions can affect the same valve.
The symptoms of heart valve disease vary depending on the severity of the condition and the valve affected. Some people with mild valve disease may not have any symptoms where as someone with more severe valve disease may have debilitating symptoms. The common symptoms of heart valve disease include chest pain and palpitations along with fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath.
Treatment for heart valve disease is dependent on several factors. In some mild cases the Dr will usually recommend close monitoring, however in more severe cases there are other options available to your Dr including medications or surgery to repair or replace the valve. The main goals of treatment are to protect the valve from further damage relieving your symptoms and repairing or replacing the damaged valve. Before deciding on a specific treatment your Dr will consider your age, or the age of your child, your medical history and general health. Then the Dr will look at the valve afflicted, the severity of the malfunction, your symptoms and how the disease may or may not progress without intervention. Your Dr will also want your input. What are your preferences and expectation? The procedures for valve repair and replacement have improved over the years. Today most treatments can be done through cardiac catheterization instead of open heart surgery. This procedure significantly reduces recovery time as well as the potential for complications.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.