It’s no secret you need to take care of your heart. Low-activity lifestyles, high-fat diets, smoking, hereditary conditions – all of these contribute to weakening your heart and, in turn, can lead to any number of heart valve diseases. Here are some of the most common forms of heart valve disease, what they mean for your heart, and how to prevent them.
Aortic Valve Disease
In aortic valve disease, the main pumping chamber of your heart, which is the left ventricle, and your aorta, the main artery to your body, don’t work properly. This can be an issue you have from birth or caused by poor health later in life.
Symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, chest pain, an irregular heartbeat, a heart murmur, not eating enough or gaining enough weight, and swelling of the ankles and feet. If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor.
If the condition hasn’t been present since birth, age-related changes to your heart, high blood pressure, or infections may be the cause. People who are older, have chronic kidney disease, or had radiation therapy to the chest are more at-risk for aortic valve disease.
Mitral Valve Regurgitation
If your mitral valve doesn’t close properly, it allows blood to flow backward into your heart, which means blood doesn’t flow efficiently to the rest of your body, often causing patients to feel tired or out of breath. This is called mitral valve regurgitation. Apart from feeling tired or out of breath, people with mitral valve regurgitation also experience a heart murmur, heart palpitations, or swollen feet or ankles. It’s a slow-progressing condition, which means you might experience it for several years without ever having symptoms.
The condition is caused by damage to the mitral valve, which can happen with trauma – such as a car accident – congenital heart defects, damage to the tissue that connects the valve to the heart wall, rheumatic fever, a heart attack, or infection that attacks the lining of the heart.
An infection that attacks the inner lining of the heart chambers and heart valves is often called endocarditis, and having it can put you at risk for several other heart conditions, including a heart attack. Initial symptoms of endocarditis include fever, chills, body aches, a new or changed heart murmur, sweating at night, shortness of breath, chest pain when you breathe, fatigue, sore joints or muscles, and swelling in your feet, legs or abdomen.
Aortic stenosis is what your physician calls it when your aortic valve narrows, preventing the valve from fully opening, which decreases blood flow to the rest of your body. People with aortic stenosis might experience symptoms very similar to aortic valve disease, which include a heart murmur, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and fatigue.
Aortic stenosis can be caused by many things. It can be a congenital disorder caused by calcium buildup on the valve, or rheumatic fever, which is a complication of strep throat that causes scar tissue to form on the aortic valve. People who are older, have kidney disease, a history of heart infections, diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure are at higher risk of aortic stenosis.
Lowering Your Risks
As long as the issue isn’t congenital, which means there isn’t anything you can do to prevent it, your best course of action in all these cases is to take care of your heart. Eat a well-balanced diet full of fresh vegetables with healthy fats and lots of water. Engage in cardiovascular exercise for at least 20 minutes a day three days per week. Get a good night’s sleep, avoid smoking and alcohol, and minimize stress as much as possible in your life.
Most importantly, if you have any question about your heart health, don’t wait. See your doctor immediately. Oftentimes, early intervention can save lives.
Dr. Massumi is a board-certified physician who specializes in Cardiology at Kelsey-Seybold’s Berthelsen Main Campus. His clinical interests include coronary artery disease, structural heart disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, peripheral vascular disease, and advanced mechanical circulatory support.