Heart valves are crucial structures within the heart that regulate blood flow by opening and closing to ensure proper circulation. They include the aortic, mitral, pulmonary, and tricuspid valves. Valvular disease refers to conditions where these valves don’t function properly. This can involve stenosis (narrowing), regurgitation (leakage), or prolapse, disrupting blood flow and potentially causing symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, or chest pain.
Cause of Valvular Heart Disease
Valvular heart disease is often caused by a combination of factors, including congenital abnormalities, infections (such as rheumatic fever or endocarditis), degeneration due to ageing, and other medical conditions like connective tissue disorders. These factors can damage valves, affecting their structure and function, resulting in conditions such as stenosis or regurgitation. Let us briefly understand the leading causes of this common condition.
- Congenital Heart Defects: These structural abnormalities at birth affect the heart’s valve development. Examples include:
- Bicuspid Aortic Valve: Aortic valve usually has three leaflets, but in this condition, it has two. This can lead to stenosis (narrowing) or regurgitation (leakage) over time.
- Valvular Atresia: A valve may be completely absent or undeveloped, obstructing blood flow through the affected valve.
- Rheumatic Fever: Untreated streptococcal throat infections lead to complications like these. Rheumatic heart disease, an inflammation of the heart valves, can result from it. The immune reaction that the streptococcal bacteria can cause can harm the heart valves, leaving them damaged and dysfunctional. Stenosis (narrowing) or regurgitation (leakage) may result from this.
Degenerative Valve Disease: Typically seen in older adults, this occurs due to the gradual wear and tear of heart valves over time, leading to conditions such as:
- Aortic Valve Stenosis: Blood flow from the heart to the aorta, and the rest of the body is decreased as the aortic valve stiffens and narrows.
- Mitral Valve Regurgitation: When the left ventricle contracts, blood flows backwards into the left atrium due to the mitral valve failing to seal properly.
- Atherosclerosis: The development of plaque, or fatty deposits, in the coronary arteries may indirectly impact the heart valves. Atherosclerosis-related ischemia, which reduces blood flow to the heart muscle, might weaken the heart and harm the valves.
- Age: Age can change the heart valve’s structure and function, resulting in valvular heart disease.
- Infective Endocarditis: This is a bacterial or fungal infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocardium) that can damage heart valves. The disease causes vegetation (accumulation of infected tissue, platelets, and bacteria) on the valve surface, leading to valvular dysfunction.
- Connective Tissue Disorders: Conditions like Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome can affect the connective tissues in the heart valves, leading to valve abnormalities.
- Radiation Therapy: High-dose radiation therapy for cancer treatment, especially around the chest area, can lead to valvular heart disease over time.
- Other Diseases: Certain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or systemic sclerosis, can cause inflammation that affects heart valves. Also, hypertension (high blood pressure) can contribute to valvular issues.
- Heart Attack: A severe heart attack can damage the heart muscle, including the structures supporting the heart valves, causing valvular issues.
When to Consult a Doctor
You can also get in touch with the expert cardiology doctors at Narayana Healthcare based in your city to get immediate attention and medical support during injuries, health disorders or any other health concern.
The various causes of valvular disease include Congenital Heart Defects, Rheumatic Fever, Degenerative Valve Disease, Infective Endocarditis, Atherosclerosis and more. The disease can be treated more effectively with early evaluation of this medical condition and proper measures.
Q. What treatment options are available for valvular heart disease?
A. Treatment depends on the severity and type of valvular disease. More severe cases can need surgery, medication, a change in lifestyle, or other surgical procedures, including valve replacement or repair. Milder cases might not need any therapy. A cardiologist will choose the precise strategy depending on each patient’s circumstances.
Q. How is valvular heart disease diagnosed?
A. Health professionals use a combination of medical history, physical exams, imaging tests (like echocardiograms), and sometimes cardiac catheterisation to diagnose valvular heart disease.
Q. Can valvular heart disease be prevented?
A. While some causes are non-modifiable (like age and genetics), many risk factors can be managed. Maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, managing blood pressure, and avoiding tobacco can significantly reduce the risk of valvular heart disease.
Q. What is valvular heart disease, and how common is it?
A. Valvular heart disease refers to conditions affecting the heart valves, which regulate blood flow within the heart. With millions of instances worldwide, it is a widespread condition. It can significantly affect heart health and range from minor to severe.
Q5. Are there specific risk factors for valvular heart disease?
A. Yes, several factors increase the risk of valvular heart disease. Age is a significant factor, as valves naturally degenerate over time. Risk factors include rheumatic fever history, certain infections, high blood pressure, and congenital heart anomalies.