Valvular disease occurs when any of the four valves of the heart (mitral, aortic, tricuspid, or pulmonary) suffers damage. Healthy valves pump blood in a coordinated, well-timed fashion. When one or multiple valves are damaged, the pumping becomes uncoordinated or inefficient. The valves might become too narrow or stiff to open fully, or they might not be able to close completely. Byproducts of impaired process might be loss of elasticity, enlarging, or thickening of the heart muscle.
Onset of the disease can vary from gradual to acute. If the disease comes on fast, there’s a better chance it will be detected since the accompanying symptoms will be more remarkable. If the disease takes longer to develop, then the symptoms may arise more gradually and be more difficult to detect. Many valvular disease symptoms are similar to those associated with congestive heart failure, including:
- Shortness of breath/wheezing after limited physical exertion
- Swollen feet
- Swollen hands
- Swollen abdomen
- Palpiations or chest pain
- Dizziness or fainting (with aortic stenosis)
- Fever (with bacterial endocarditis)
- Rapid weight gain
During your exam, the doctor will listen to your heart for murmurs indicating valvular heart disease. Some further tests which your doctor might order include:
- Stress testing
- Chest X-rays
- Cardiac catheterization
Treatment of valvular disease might include the following:
- Heart-healthy lifestyle changes
- Antithrombotic (clot-preventing) medication
- Balloon dilation
- Surgical repair (repairing or replacing a damaged valve)
Typically, aftercare will involve some combination of heart-healthy lifestyle changes and medical treatment. The lifestyle changes will be similar to those taken for hypertension (high blood pressure), since high blood pressure can further damage your heart’s valves. Quitting smoking, managing weight and stress, eating a heart-healthy diet are some examples of the lifestyle changes you can expect the doctor to recommend.
If your condition requires surgical intervention, the aftercare process can be much more involved. During the weeks following the operation, your body will undergo a complex process of recovery. Your appetite, energy, and sleep can all be affected. It is best to adhere closely to the self-care recommendations given by your physician.