Heart valve disease refers to most forms of damage affecting the four valves that control blood flow through the heart. When your heart beats, small flaps (leaflets) in your valves open and close, regulating the flow of blood. Damage to those leaflets is characterized by the following:
- Stiff or hardened valve tissue
- An inability of the valve to fully open or close
- Disruption or reversal of blood flow
Among the potential causes of heart valve disease are congenital conditions (defects present at birth) and degenerative conditions (defects associated with aging). Valvular heart disease may also be connected to other types of heart disease.
If your Bayhealth cardiologist determines you’re suffering from heart valve disease, surgical intervention may be necessary.
Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease
Depending on the patient’s medical history and other factors, heart valve disease can occur suddenly or gradually over an extended period of time. Symptoms include the following:
- Abdominal swelling
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Rapid weight gain
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of ankles and feet
Heart valve disease might not present symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. If you’re experiencing symptoms, speak to your doctor about diagnostic procedures.
How We Diagnose Heart Valve Disease
Bayhealth heart and vascular experts use the following diagnostic procedures to identify heart valve disease.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG): Electrical pulses generated by your heart are measured and evaluated to determine if any anomalies or unusual conditions are present.
- Echocardiogram: Sound waves are directed to your heart through a device held up to your chest, causing a pattern that allows the physician to determine if the valves and other parts of the heart are operating properly.
- Holter monitoring: A small device that must be worn over the chest, the Holter monitor records your heart’s electrical activity for a period of 24 hours or more.
- Stress test: Heart signals and blood pressure are monitored while you walk on a treadmill. Afterwards, photos may be taken of your heart while you are resting.
- Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE): Performed after an imaging tube is passed through your throat and esophagus, this procedure provides the most accurate view of your heart.
- Cardiac catheterization: A liquid dye is injected through a narrow tube (catheter) into an artery leading to the heart, allowing short video and photos to be taken.
Procedures and Treatment Options
Treatment of heart valve disease depends on the location and severity of the damage. The most common areas of the heart affected are the aortic and mitral valves. Your Bayhealth physician may use one or more of the following procedures to address damage to your heart valves.
- Balloon valvuloplasty: A narrow tube (catheter) is inserted through the valve opening. A balloon is then inflated to enlarge the opening and improve blood flow.
- Surgical Valve Repair: The valve is repaired using open surgery or a minimally invasive procedure requiring small incisions, depending on the condition of the valve.
- Surgical Valve Replacement: During this open-heart procedure, the faulty valve is removed and replaced with a tissue or mechanical valve.
- Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR): A narrow tube (catheter) is inserted into the femoral artery through your groin or leg, guiding a replacement valve into your heart. Once in place, the new valve expands to fill the space and push the faulty valve aside. Learn more about the TAVR procedure at Bayhealth.