If you are one of the millions of people diagnosed with a valvular heart disease, you’re probably looking for answers to a long list of questions weighing you down. Understanding the definition of valvular heart disease and knowing some of the best forms of treatment available can help you meet this grave illness head-on.
What is the Heart?
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the heart is an organ of the body, a necessary muscle for pumping blood and a critical component of the circulatory system. Some other elements of the circulatory system include arteries, veins, and capillaries.
Your heart relies on every aspect of that system to work at peak performance to ensure your body receives the proper blood it needs at just the right time. Any damage to the system can result in both immediate and long-term consequences including death.
Defining the Disease
Valvular heart disease occurs when at least one out of four of the valves in your heart become damaged in any way. Whether caused by a genetic defect, a traumatic event, or just decay that has happened over time, you must treat this disease to prevent serious, long-term consequences.
Knowing the conditions surrounding valvular heart disease may help you better understand your diagnosis. With that knowledge of the illness comes tools that will help you overcome the problem and regain your health. Some terminology to know include:
- Heart Valves: There are four main valves of the heart, the mitral and the tricuspid. These regulate the flow of blood to both the upper and lower heart chambers. The aortic carries the blood from the heart to the aorta and on through the rest of the body. The pulmonary provides proper blood flow to the lungs. Each of these valves is essential to the successful flow of blood to various parts of your body. When the valve becomes faulty, it affects more than just the damaged area.
- Stenotic versus Incompetent: When vascular heart disease occurs, a valve becomes narrow and hardened. If it cannot open fully, it is called stenotic, but when a valve fails to close fully, it is known as incompetent. Either way, this hardening makes blood flow slower and makes the work of the heart more difficult.
- Problems: Three of the most common heart valve problems include regurgitation, a backflow into the chambers rather than flowing through the body, stenosis a thickening of the valve preventing it from opening fully, and atresia causing no room for passage of blood through a valve.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Obviously, once you know the serious nature of valvular heart disease, it is important to know how to move from the diagnosis straight into the most effective treatment options. While mild cases of this illness may not display any symptoms, the longer and more severe a case become, the more serious the potential consequences. Valvular heart disease can lead to strokes, blood clots, heart failure, and even immediate death from sudden cardiac arrest.
While lifestyle changes including dietary improvements and inclusion of proper exercise, symptoms can decrease. The most effective treatment for a damaged valve involves repairing or even replacing what is causing the problem. Some of the treatment options currently available are:
- Non-surgical: Not only can you choose a healthier lifestyle as a non-surgical option for treating this illness. Your doctor may decide to monitor your condition, or perhaps treat you with long-term medications like antibiotics and anti-clotting meds. These are great options for patients with milder cases of valvular heart disease.
- TAVI: A Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation procedure is designed to correct those with a diagnosis of severe aortic stenosis. It is minimally invasive and done through small holes rather than a fully opened chest incision. This procedure repairs the damage without replacing the entire valve and requires only approximately a 3-5 day hospital stay.
- Balloon Dilatation: With this technique, a small balloon inserted in the narrowed area is used to inflate and widen the space. Balloon dilatation requires a small incision for insertion of a catheter.
As always, your best line of defense against any form of illness or disease is to arm yourself with information and a team of professionals. Ask your doctors questions about Valvular Heart Disease and what your diagnosis means for your quality of life. Follow through on the best advice for your situation, and you will be taking the right steps toward conquering this serious illness.