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Heart Valve Disease

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What Are the Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease?

Symptoms of heart valve disease can include:

  • Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath. You may notice this most when you are active (doing your normal daily activities) or when you lie down flat in bed. You may need to sleep propped up on a few pillows to breathe easier.
  • Weakness or dizziness. You may feel too weak to carry out your normal daily activities. Dizziness can also occur, and in some cases, passing out may be a symptom.
  • Discomfort in your chest. You may feel a pressure or weight in your chest with activity or when going out in cold air.
  • Palpitations. This may feel like a rapid heart rhythm, irregular heartbeat, skipped beats, or a flip-flop feeling in your chest.
  • Swelling of your ankles, feet, or abdomen. This is called edema. Swelling in your belly may cause you to feel bloated.
  • Rapid weight gain. A weight gain of two or three pounds in one day is possible.

Symptoms of heart valve disease do not always relate to the seriousness of your condition. You may have no symptoms at all and have severe valve disease, requiring prompt treatment. Or, as with mitral valve prolapse, you may have noticeable symptoms, yet tests may show the valve leak is not significant.

How Are Heart Valve Diseases Diagnosed?

Your heart doctor can tell if you have heart valve disease by talking to you about symptoms, performing a physical exam, and performing other tests.

During a physical exam, the doctor will listen to your heart to hear sounds the heart makes as the valves open and close. A murmur is a swishing sound made by blood flowing through a stenotic or leaky valve. A doctor can also tell if the heart is enlarged or if your heart rhythm is irregular.

The doctor will listen to the lungs to hear if you are retaining fluid there, which shows the heart is not able to pump as well as it should.

By examining your body, the doctor can find clues about circulation and the functioning of other organs.

After the physical exam, the doctor may order diagnostic tests. These may include:

By conducting some or all of these tests over time, your doctor can also see the progress of valve disease. This will help him or her make decisions about treatment.

How Is Heart Valve Disease Treated?

Heart valve disease treatment depends on the type and severity of disease. There are three goals of treatment for heart valve disease: protecting your valve from further damage; lessening symptoms; and repairing or replacing valves.

Protecting your valve from further damage. If you have valve disease, you are at higher risk for developing endocarditis, a serious condition. People who have had their valve surgically repaired or replaced are also at higher risk for endocarditis.

To protect yourself:

  • Tell your doctors and dentist you have heart valve disease. You may want to carry an identification card with this information. The American Heart Association website has a bacterial endocarditis wallet card that you may download; or call your local American Heart Association office or the national office at 1-800-AHA-USA1.
  • Call your doctor if you have symptoms of an infection (sore throat, general body aches, fever).
  • Take good care of your teeth and gums to prevent infections. See your dentist for regular visits.
  • Your doctor may recommend that you take antibiotics before you undergo any procedure that may cause bleeding, such as any dental work (even a basic teeth cleaning), invasive tests (any test that may involve blood or bleeding), and most major or minor surgery. The recommendations for which procedures and which types of valve disease need antibiotics have recently changed, so make sure to ask your doctor about the latest recommendations.

Medications. You may be prescribed medications to treat your symptoms and to lessen the chance of further valve damage. Some drugs may be stopped after you have had heart valve surgery to correct the problem. Other medications may need to be taken all your life. Common heart disease drugs may include:

 

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