What is heart valve disease?

November 07, 2014 By Josh Rock, DO, RPVI, FACC

Maybe you or someone you know has what is referred to as heart valve disease. This means one of the heart's four valves – which pump blood from one chamber into another -- isn't working properly.

The valves' leaflets work like swinging doors in that they allow blood to flow forward. A valve that isn't working right can cause two potential problems. It can become narrowed, known as stenosis. Alternatively, the valve might not close correctly and blood will leak backwards, which is called regurgitation.

Severe valve dysfunction can cause fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, heart fluttering, light-headed sensation, fainting, and swelling of ankles/legs/abdomen with fluid. If you develop any of these symptoms you should contact your physician.

A faulty valve may result in “turbulence” as the blood moves from one chamber to another and produce a sound that can be detected by placing a stethoscope against the chest. These “murmurs” are usually specific for different valve problems. Not all murmurs are due to faulty heart valves. Some patients with a completely normal heart may have a murmur (benign flow murmur). If your physician suspects a valve problem an ultrasound of the heart, echocardiogram, will likely be ordered. Additional testing may include cardiac MRI/CT, transesophageal echocardiogram, or a cardiac catheterization.

Treatment of a severely dysfunctional valve is routinely open heart surgery as there are no medications that can reverse a damaged valve. A surgeon will remove the faulty valve and replace it with a mechanical or animal valve (such as a pig or cow valve). In some cases, such as mitral regurgitation, the valve can be repaired and a new valve is not necessary though repair requires open heart surgery. A new procedure for a faulty valve, known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), does not require open heart surgery. During TAVR, a catheter delivers a prosthetic heart valve to the heart. The valve is expanded, or deployed, when in proper position. This new valve is opened on top of the existing, faulty, heart valve. This extensive and complicated procedure is currently only performed in patients who are high risk, and too sick to undergo open heart surgery.

A faulty heart valve can put a stress on the heart and body. If you have any of the above mentioned symptoms please contact your doctor for more evaluation.

Cardiologist Josh Rock, DO, RPVI, FACC, is a member of The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC) medical staff. He practices at Grove Hill Medical Center, 209 Main St., Southington (860.628.3600). For referrals to HOCC physicians, please contact our free Need-A-Physician referral service by phone at 800.321.6244.