In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our September 2011 issue, we gave a reader's question about preventing heart disease to James Beckerman, MD, WebMD's heart health expert.
Q : Heart disease runs in my family. What can I really do now to help prevent it?
A : Cut out these five things to greatly reduce your risk:
Smoking (or hanging around with smokers). Smoking is the most dangerous -- yet most reversible...
After surgery, you will have regular doctor visits to check your heart and your new valve. You will take blood thinning medicine to prevent
blood clots after surgery. And you might need antibiotics to prevent infections.
Keep in mind that an
artificial valve will not work as well as an undamaged natural valve. So even though your heart function is improved, it may not recover to completely
normal levels. If your heart was already severely affected before your surgery,
you may still have symptoms of heart disease.
Regular doctor visits
After surgery, you will have regular checkups so your doctor can check your heart and your heart valve.
It is important to know that you aren't cured after you have had a
valve replacement. You still have a serious heart condition that must be
All artificial heart valves eventually wear out and need to be replaced. A mechanical valve will last 20 to 30 years. A tissue valve will last about 8 to 15 years.
Your doctor will check the new valve periodically
for signs that it is wearing out. Your doctor will ask you how you are feeling and if you have any new symptoms or changes in symptoms. These symptoms are similar to those that
signaled that the original valve was wearing out: a heart murmur and sometimes symptoms such as shortness of breath and fainting. These signs may
be spotted during visits to your doctor.
You might have tests, such as an echocardiogram, to check how well your heart is working. Your doctor will also check for other heart problems.
If you have a mechanical valve (made of plastic, metal, or cloth),
you will need to take blood thinners (anticoagulants)
such as warfarin (for example, Coumadin) for the rest of your life to keep
blood clots from forming on your valve surfaces.
If you have a biological valve
(made of animal or human tissue), you need to take anticoagulants for a few weeks or months
after surgery while your body adapts to your new valve. Your doctor will tell you when you can stop taking anticoagulants.
You must be careful when using blood thinners, because there are risks
associated with their use. The major risk is that your blood may become too
thin. This means you will bruise more easily, bleed more heavily from minor
injury, or even bleed spontaneously. You should visit your doctor regularly to
have your blood clotting monitored.
If you have an
artificial valve, you may need to take
antibiotics before you have certain
dental or surgical procedures. The antibiotics help
prevent an infection in your heart called
Primary Medical Reviewer
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical Reviewer
John A. McPherson, MD, FACC, FSCAI - Cardiology
November 2, 2011
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
November 02, 2011
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