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Valvular heart disease is a condition in which there is a defect or damage to one of the heart valves. There are four main heart valves: aortic valve, mitral valve, tricuspid valve and pulmonary valve. The mitral valve and the tricuspid valve control the way blood flows from the atria into the ventricles. The mitral valve works on the left side of the heart and the tricuspid valve works on the right side of the heart. The pulmonary valve regulates flow from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery and the aortic valve controls flow of blood from the left ventricle to the aorta. The most commonly affected heart valves with disease include the aortic valve and the mitral valve.

Valves can do two things. They can open and allow blood to go past it and out to the artery or other chamber of the heart. When the valve is stenotic, it is narrowed so that the blood cannot get through to the next area. This results in back up of blood flow. A valve must also shut immediately after systole so that blood doesn't pass back through to the chamber it came from. If a valve is leaky, blood goes back into the chamber it came from and it backs up in the lungs or to the rest of the body.

Valvular heart disease can be mild and can be just picked up on an echocardiogram or with a stethoscope. More severe heart disease causes many symptoms and can lead to heart failure.

Symptoms of valvular heart disease vary with the degree of blockage or leakage. The symptoms can come up suddenly or gradually, depending on what is happening with the valve. The symptoms you have don't always correlate to how severe the disease is. You can have very mild or no symptoms and can have very severe valvular disease.

Symptoms are strongly correlated with congestive heart failure because valvular heart disease often causes CHF. Symptoms include being short of breath, wheezing, and poor exercise tolerance, swelling of the feet, hands, or abdomen. There can be fatigue, fainting episodes or dizziness, fever (if you have endocarditis), weight gain, and palpitations.

The various causes of valvular heart disease can be present at the time of birth or acquired for various reasons later in life. They include having rheumatic fever that attacks the valves, bacterial endocarditis which damages the valves, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, degeneration of a heart valve, a heart attack, certain tumors that affect the heart and radiation therapy that damages the heart.

Prevention of valvular heart disease is possible for acquired kinds of valvular disease. You need to quit smoking. You need to see a doctor if you have a prolonged sore throat and fever as this may be strep throat that can lead to valvular disease. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and drink no more than two alcoholic beverages per day. Eat a healthy diet low in salt and if you are diabetic, keep your blood sugar in good control.

Doctors can diagnose valvular heart disease by doing an ECG or EKG, which is a test that measures the electrical activity within the heart. A stress test can see what your exercise tolerance is like. An echocardiogram can visualize the valves and can identify stenosis or leakage (incompetence) of the various valves. Chest x-rays can show fluid around the lungs or within lung tissue. A cardiac catheterization can show the degree of damage in the heart and can look at the coronary arteries for blockages.

Treatment of valvular heart disease includes stopping smoking, stopping excessive alcohol consumption, and keeping salt intake to a minimum. Basically, it means leading a heart healthy life. Antibiotics are used whenever you have dental work or surgery to prevent bacterial endocarditis on damaged valves. Doctors recommend that long term antibiotics be used for those who have had rheumatic fever in the past. Clot prevention medications like aspirin or Plavix are used to keep clots from forming on the damaged valves. In some cases warfarin (Coumadin) is used to really thin the blood in cases of atrial fibrillation, which can occur in valvular heart disease. Balloon dilatation can be used to make a narrow valve more dilated. Valvular surgery can be done to repair or replace a valve. The valves can be human in origin, artificial or made from porcine tissue.

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Medical Negligence Solicitors

Our personal injury solicitors operate a specialist medical negligence compensation service. Our Valvular Heart Disease solicitors deal with claims using a no win no fee arrangement which means that if you don�t win then you don�t pay them their professional costs. If you would like legal advice at no cost with no further obligation just complete the contact form or email our lawyers offices or use the helpline and a Valvular Heart Disease solicitor will review your medical negligence compensation claim and phone you immediately.

HELPLINE: ☎ 1800 633 634

The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here