Oxygen is the life-giving element that helps the human body work efficiently; blood is the carrier through which oxygen is delivered to various parts of the body. The heart and the pair of lungs work in tandem to transport oxygen-rich blood to various parts of the body; the de-oxygenated blood is sent to the lungs for purification. These 2 cycles of blood-flow are happening constantly and are regulated by 4 valves present in the 4 chambers of the heart. The 4 chambers are – right and left atrium at the top, and right and left ventricle at the bottom.
Deoxygenated blood from various parts of the body is brought to the right atrium. The right atrium contracts to push this blood into the right ventricle, with the flow being regulated by the tricuspid valve. The right ventricle then contracts to push this blood in to the pulmonary artery which carries the blood to the lungs for purification. This flow is regulated by the pulmonary valve.
The oxygenated blood coming from the lungs is delivered to the left atrium. The left atrium then contracts to push this blood into the left ventricle, with the flow being regulated by the mitral valve. The left ventricle then contracts to push the blood into the aorta from where it’s carried to the rest of the body. This flow is regulated by the aortic valve.
The 4 valves open and close to ensure blood always flows in the forward direction and does not recede back. A valve is made up of flaps or cusps which cover the opening and open or shut as required. When this process, or functioning of the valves, is affected, blood is not transported adequately, or in time, and the condition is called valvular heart disease.
Types of Valvular Heart Disease
- Stenosis: Here, the leaflets of the valve become stiff or fused; as a result, the valve doesn’t open fully so blood flow is affected. The heart now works harder to push more blood to overcome the problem. Stenosis can affect any of the 4 valves.
- Regurgitation: Here, the leaflets do not close tightly or do not seal, so some blood flows backward. Again, the heart has to work harder to overcome the leak. Also called insufficiency, incompetence or leaky valve.
- Endocarditis: Bacteria that enter the blood during a dental procedure, surgery, IV drug use or infection, can attack the valves causing holes, scarring or growth in them.
- Mitral Valve Prolapse: Here, the tissues of the mitral valve become stretchy and the leaflets tend to flop back into the left atrium when the heart contracts. Here again, the heart has to work harder to overcome the leak.
- Congenital Vs Acquired: While any of the above conditions can be acquired over time, there are some valve defects that are congenital or present since birth. Some of them are:
- Atresia, in which case the valve isn’t formed properly and a solid tissue blocks the opening between the chambers.
- The pulmonary and aortic valves may be of the wrong size, may have leaflets that are improperly formed, or the leaflets may not be attached to their base properly.
- Bicuspid aortic valve disease: Here, instead of having 3 leaflets, the aortic valve has only 2; as a result, the valve doesn’t open or shut properly or is leaky.
Valvular conditions can arise after any of these: rheumatic fever (a bacterial infection), high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, aortic aneurysms, heart attack, connective tissue disease, cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease), syphilis (a sexually transmitted disease), certain tumours, certain drugs and radiation for cancer treatment.
Most of the risk factors for heart disease in general are also risk factors for valvular disease. These include a history of heart attack, heart ailments, congenital heart defects, high BP, high cholesterol, diabetes and old age.
Valvular heart disease that is left untreated or undiagnosed can result in a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, blood clots, arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and death too.
Also Read: Heart Diseases and Symptoms
Depending on the exact nature of the valvular condition, the patient may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- A whooshing or a murmuring sound in the heart, heard through a stethoscope
- Shortness of breath after some activity or while lying down
- Edema or swelling of the ankles, feet and abdomen
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Pressure or a weighted feeling in the chest after some activity or when going out in cold air
- Palpitations, rapid heartbeat, irregular heartbeat, skipped beats or a flip-flop feeling in the chest
- Rapid weight gain of two or three pounds in a day
Diagnosing and Treating Valvular Heart Disease
If you suffer any of the above symptoms, consult a reputed hospital. The Best Cardiologist in Chennai will prescribe a series of tests to assess the type and extent of the valvular disease. Once diagnosed as positive for valvular disease, the doctor will recommend medication, incisive surgery or minimally invasive options as relevant to your case.