Your heart consists of four chambers, and at the exit of each chamber is a set of flaps (also called leaflets or cusps) that create a valve. Your heart valves open and shut to keep your blood flowing in the right direction, and when a valve either does not let enough blood through or does not seal properly, serious complications can arise, resulting in valve disease. Stenosis is one form of valve disease in which the valves stiffen and narrow, not allowing enough blood to pass. Regurgitation is another form in which the valves do not close correctly; this can lead to blood leakage and backflow.
The most common cause of valve disease in adults is degeneration with age of the valve's leaflets. Over time, these flaps can become thickened, floppy or calcified and may fail to open properly.
Other causes of valve disease include the following conditions:
- Rheumatic fever, which can cause scarring on the aortic valve and may result in restricted blood flow
- Endocarditis, a bacterial infection
- Enlarged heart muscle (known as cardiomyopathy)
- Coronary disease from blockages
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Aortic aneurysms
- Heart tumors (rarely)
Symptoms of Valve Disease
Following are the most common symptoms of valve disease:
- Palpitations, abnormality of the heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness or dizziness
- Rapid weight gain or swelling (from water retention)
- Chest pain or pressure, especially upon physical exertion
Keep in mind that these symptoms can also indicate conditions other than valve disease. If you are experiencing any of these conditions, contact your doctor immediately so the cause can be diagnosed and treated promptly.
Diagnosing Valve Disease
The first step to diagnosing valve disease is listening to the heart with a stethoscope. If there is a murmur or other irregularity, your doctor will listen to the lungs for possible fluid buildup, which indicates decreased heart-pumping action.
A chest X-ray and an electrocardiogram (EKG) are often used to help determine whether there is heart enlargement or an irregular rhythm. Other tests used include devices that create a more complete picture of the heart.
Treating Valve Disease
Cardiovascular surgeons at Houston Methodist Hospital are leaders in research, development and application of a range of valve repair and replacement surgery options. The most common types of valve surgeries are repair of mitral valves (between the heart’s upper-left and lower-left chambers) and aortic valves (between the lower-left chamber and the aorta). In cases where the valve cannot be repaired, our surgeons provide a full range of options for valve replacement heart surgery. Some replacements use mechanical valves or stented animal-tissue (xenograft) valves. Others involve the implantation of stentless xenograft valves.
More than 30 percent of aortic valve procedures our specialists perform are by catheter rather than open surgery, which can keep patients out of the intensive care unit, improve recovery times and reduce hospital stays.
Houston Methodist combines the expertise of cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, imaging specialists and cardiovascular anesthesia specialists to collaboratively develop and deliver the best treatment plan for each patient treated for valve disease. Physicians at Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center Valve Clinic are nationally recognized experts in the diagnosis and treatment of valve disease. Our clinic provides an estimated 1,000 patients annually with focused, prompt assessments and innovative treatment options.
Our physicians at Houston Methodist specialize in managing heart failure at the following convenient locations.