Dr Simon Kennon MB ChB, FRCP, MD Consultant Cardiologist

Heart Valve Disease

Your heart is a muscle which pumps blood around 2 sequential circuits. One circuit is out through the lungs (to pick up oxygen) and then back to the heart. The other circuit is out to the rest of the body (ie brain, liver, kidneys, muscles etc) and back to the heart. There are four chambers to your heart which are separated by valves to make sure that the blood flows the right way round the heart and the circuits. Valves maybe stiffened and thickened which prevents the valve from opening properly and reduces the amount of blood pumped out by the heart This is valve stenosis. Or valves may not close properly such that blood leaks back through the valve going in the wrong direction, again reducing the amount of blood the heart pumps out. This is ‘valve regurgitation’. The four heart valves are the aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid valves

Causes

Heart valve malfunction may be due to wear and tear; infection; valves may be damaged during heart attacks; you may be born with minor valve abnormalities which are then exacerbated by wear and tear or infection.

Symptoms

When valve malfunction is mild people don't experience any symptoms but generally valve malfunction worsens over time and symptoms then develop. The commonest symptom is being out of breath particularly on exertion. Other symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, chest pain and swelling of the ankles may be noticed.

Treatment

mild valve dysfunction does not require treatment but monitoring with heart scans (echocardiograms) is needed. When the valve malfunction progresses it either needs to be repaired or replaced. This may involve either open heart surgery or a percutaneous key hole procedure. Or example aortic valve stenosis may be treated with an aortic valve replacement operation or with transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI)