Heart Valve Disease

As many as 11 million Americans may have heart valve disease, (HVD), according to the Alliance for Aging Research. HVD is a potentially disabling and deadly disease, yet 3 out of 4 Americans know little to nothing about the disease.

In an article published by Mayo Clinic on Heart Valve disease, they focused on identifying symptoms, causes, risk factors and complications. The following is an excerpt from that article.

In heart valve disease one or more of the valves in your heart does not work properly.

Your heart has 4 valves that keep blood flowing in the right direction. In some cases, one or more of the valves don’t open or close properly. This can cause blood flow through your heart to your body to be disrupted. Your heart valve disease treatment depends on the heart valve affected and the type and severity of the valve disease. Sometimes heart valve disease requires surgery to repair or replace the heart valve.

Some people with heart valve disease might not experience symptoms for many years.

Signs and symptoms of heart valve disease may include:

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  • Abnormal sound (heart murmur) when a doctor is listening to the heart beating with a stethoscope
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath, particularly when you have been very active or when you lie down
  • Swelling of your ankles and feet
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Irregular heartbeat


Heart valve disease may be present at birth (congenital). It can also occur in adults due to many causes and conditions, such as infections, hypertension and other heart conditions.

Heart valve problems may include:

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  • Regurgitation. In this condition, the valve flaps don’t close properly, causing blood to leak backward in your heart. This commonly occurs due to valve flaps bulging back, a condition called prolapse.
  • Stenosis. In valve stenosis, the valve flaps become thick or stiff, and they may fuse together. This results in a narrowed valve opening and reduced blood flow through the valve.
  • Atresia. In this condition, the valve isn’t formed, and a solid sheet of tissue blocks the blood flow between the heart chambers.


Risk Factors
Several factors can increase your risk of heart valve disease, including:

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  • Older age
  • History of certain infections that can affect the heart
  • History of certain forms of heart disease or heart attack
  • High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other heart disease risk factors
  • Heart conditions present at birth (congenital heart disease)


Heart valve disease can cause many complications, including:

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  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Blood clots
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities
  • Death


If you develop any symptoms that may suggest heart valve disease, see your doctor.

How is valve disease diagnosed? According to the Cleveland Clinic, your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and medical history; then perform an exam and diagnostic tests. Those results will help the doctor make a diagnosis.

The physical exam may show that you have fluid in your lungs, an enlarged heart, or a heart murmur. A heart murmur is the sound made by blood moving through a narrowed or a leaky valve.

Diagnostic tests help determine the location, type and extent of your valve disease. They help your doctor see how severe the leak or stenosis is and how it is affecting your heart’s function and ability to pump blood. These tests may include and are available at Forks Community Hospital:

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  • Echocardiogram (echo): A graphic outline of the heart’s movement. High frequency sound waves are sent through a transducer wand that is placed on your chest. This produces pictures of the heart’s valves, chambers and pumping action of the heart. An echo can show a narrowed or insufficient valve.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): A picture on graph paper of the electrical impulses traveling through the heart muscle. Electrodes (small, sticky patches) are placed on the body, and they send the information that creates the picture. An EKG can detect abnormal electrical activity in the heart.
  • Cardiac Stress Test: The cardiac stress test involves exercising on a treadmill while you are closely monitored. This test is used to screen for unrecognized coronary artery disease, high blood pressure (hypertension) and abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).
  • Pharmacological Nuclear Stress Test: For those who cannot exercise on a treadmill due to a physical condition, a Nuclear Cardiac Stress Test may be ordered. A pharmacological nuclear stress test is a diagnostic test used to evaluate blood flow to the heart. During the test, a small amount of radioactive tracer is injected into a vein. A special camera, called a gamma camera, detects the radiation released by the tracer to produce computer images of the heart.
  • Cardiac Catheterization: Cardiac catheterization is a procedure used to diagnose and treat cardiovascular conditions. During cardiac catheterization, a long thin tube called a catheter is inserted in an artery or vein in your groin, neck or arm and threaded through your blood vessels to your heart. These are performed by a cardiologist at major medical centers.


If you suspect you may have Heart Valve Disease, please contact your physician.

If you would like to get involved and share information about the disease with the community, please visit the National Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day website at: www.valvediseaseday.org

Doug Devine
Director of Cardiopulmonary
Forks Community Hospital

Disclaimer – This column is not intended as a diagnosis or recommended treatment of a specific condition. Answers are not a replacement for an individual medical evaluation. Individual health concerns should be evaluated by a licensed clinician.