Leading-edge solutions for a longer life with heart valve disease
Taking care of your heart can add years of active living to your life. There is no cure for heart valve disease, but lifestyle changes and regular medications can help relieve your symptoms and complications. Over time, you may need to have your heart valve replaced or repaired.
The team of heart and vascular experts at Novant Health can help you identify the lifestyle changes you need to make and prescribe the necessary medications to manage this disease. If it is determined that your faulty heart valve needs to be repaired or replaced, our team of heart surgeons will use the latest technology to restore your valve to a healthy state. We will help you overcome heart valve disease and reduce its impact on your life.
What is heart valve disease?
Valvular heart disease occurs when your heart's valves do not work correctly. It can be caused by valvular stenosis or valvular insufficiency. Valve disease causes your heart muscle to work harder to circulate the right amount of blood through your body.
- With valvular stenosis, the tissues forming the valve openings become stiffer, narrowing the valve opening and reducing the amount of blood that can flow through it. If the narrowing is minimal, the overall functioning of the heart may not be reduced; however, the valve can become so narrow (stenotic) that heart function is reduced and the rest of the body may not receive adequate blood flow.
- Valvular insufficiency (regurgitation, incompetence or "leaky valve") occurs when the valves do not close completely, letting blood leak backward across the valve. This backward flow is referred to as “regurgitant flow.”
Diagnosis of valve disease
Your cardiologist (heart doctor) will diagnose valve disease after:
- Talking to you about your symptoms and medical history
- Performing a physical examination, which may reveal fluid in the lungs, an enlarged heart or a heart murmur
- Performing diagnostic tests (see below)
Tests could include:
- Echocardiogram (echo) – An "echo" is a graphic outline of the heart's movement. High frequency sound waves are used to provide pictures of your heart's valves and chambers and to look at the pumping action of the heart. An echocardiogram can be performed at rest or during exercise.
- Transesophageal echocardiogram, transesophageal echo, or TEE – During a TEE, a sound wave transducer is placed on the end of a special tube (called an endoscope) and passed into your mouth and down the esophagus (food pipe). This enables doctors to get a closer look at your heart valves, the heart chambers and the back of the heart.
- Cardiac catheterization (cardiac cath or angiogram) – A catheter (inserted into your arm or leg) is guided to your heart, contrast dye is injected, and X-ray movies of your coronary arteries, heart chambers and heart valves are taken.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) – The electrical activity of your heart is detected using small electrode patches attached to the skin that transmit information to a computer, which is recorded on graph paper.
Lifestyle changes you will need to make
One of the most effective ways to fight heart valve disease is by making changes to your lifestyle. We recommend implementing the following changes in your everyday life:
- Quit smoking and using tobacco products
- Control high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease
- Have regular checkups with your doctor
- Have your doctor check your lipid profile
- Eat foods low in saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium
- Achieve and maintain a desirable weight
- Exercise regularly
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
Your doctor might ask you to start taking a daily dose of aspirin or another blood-thinning medication to reduce the risk of developing blood clots. Other medications like angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or calcium channel blockers may be recommended to control your blood pressure.
Treatments and procedures
To avoid further complications with this disease, your doctor might recommend one of the following treatments we specialize in:
- Heart valve replacement – This surgery is performed when the damage caused from heart valve disease is advanced. Your surgeon will remove the damaged valve and replace it with a man-made or biological valve.
- Heart valve repair – Depending on your condition, your surgeon will separate closed valve flaps, remove tissue so the valve can close tighter or add tissue to patch holes or tears to increase the valve’s support. Balloon valvuloplasty and cardiac catheterization are two common methods we use to repair heart valves.
To learn more about our heart valve disease services or to make an appointment with one of our cardiovascular experts, contact the Novant Health location nearest you.