Ask the Experts

Heart Valve Disease Explained

dr. lawrence w. solomon
Lawrence W. Solomon, MD, FACC
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What is heart valve disease?
Valvular heart disease is one of the most common types of heart disease that we see as cardiologists, particularly in our aging population in the United States. There are four “one-way” valves in the heart that facilitate blood moving forward through the heart in an efficient way. When these valves malfunction, either by not opening completely or not closing completely, the ability of the heart to circulate blood may become impaired, and ultimately congestive heart failure may develop. 

 

What causes valvular heart disease?
There are many causes for valve disease, some of which are congenital (which you are born with) and some are acquired later in life. Infection, inflammatory diseases, and radiation can sometimes damage heart valves. Often times, the valves may simply degenerate with age, without any specific cause. 

 

What are the most common types of valve disease?
The most common types of valve disease that we see are mitral regurgitation (where the mitral valve doesn’t close properly) and aortic stenosis (where the aortic valve doesn’t open properly). Both of these types of valve problems can progress over time and weaken the heart. 

 

How do I know if I have valve disease?
Most people with valve disease have no symptoms. As it progresses, however, symptoms of breathlessness, swelling, chest pain, palpitations, or fainting may develop. Should you develop any of these symptoms, a cardiologist can evaluate you further to see if there is a valve problem. In many cases, listening to the heart with a stethoscope will confirm the presence of valve disease when a heart murmur (a sound in the chest) is detected. The most detailed method of evaluating heart function is with an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound procedure that allows us to assess valve function in a detailed manner. 

 

What should I do if I have valve disease?
See a cardiologist! There is much that can be done for valve disease. In most cases, no specific treatment is needed, but just careful monitoring. Once the disease progresses, however, it may be necessary to consider treatment to fix the problem. Traditionally, this involved a big open-heart surgery; however, in recent times, newer techniques have been developed that allow us to treat many types of valve disease using a catheter (small tube) introduced into the heart from the leg. In fact, aortic valves can now be replaced via a catheter, without the need to open the chest.  


Putnam Hospital Center
The Heart Center, a division of Hudson Valley Cardiovascular Practice, P.C.
150 Route 52
Carmel, NY 10512
845-225-5301
TTY /Accessibility: 800-421-1220
www.healthquest.org/heartcenter


Read Past Topics from Dr. Solomon: 
‚ÄčLearn About Valvular Heart Disease Without Skipping a Beat


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