Valvular heart disease

What is valvular heart disease?

Valvular heart disease a name given to a group of conditions which affect one or more of the heart’s valves. They result in damage that can lead to severe complications in the long-term.

There are four major valves in the heart which can be affected:

  • Mitral valve – this lets blood flow from the left atrium to the left ventricle.
  • Aortic valve – the main outflow valve for the heart’s left side, letting blood flow into the body
  • Pulmonary valve – separating the heart’s right ventricle form the lungs
  • Tricuspid valve – separating the upper and lower chambers on the right side of the heart (the atrium and ventricle)

A/Prof. Dion Stub provides diagnosis and treatment for all types of valvular heart disease from locations throughout Melbourne.

Causes & risk factors

Valvular heart disease is more common in older Australians, although it can be present at birth. Some other diseases and infections – such as syphilis and rheumatic fever – may also contribute to valvular heart disease by damaging the heart’s tissue.

High-dose radiation can also cause calcium deposits to form on the valves and stiffen them. While modern radiation therapy techniques minimise the amount of radiation delivered to areas of the body not affected by cancer, they can still contribute to valvular heart disease as a result.

Symptoms

  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath

In some cases, valvular heart disease may not show obvious symptoms until it is quite advanced. As a result, regular heart check-ups with your GP or cardiologist are especially important if you are at risk.

Why is valvular heart disease dangerous?

Heart valve diseases damage the heart valves and impact their ability to function. They may become stiff and unable to open properly (stenosis), or be unable to close properly (regurgitation). This can result in reduced blood flow through the valves, or a backflow of blood through the heart which can contribute to blood clots, stroke, and heart failure.

Diagnosis

A/Prof. Dion Stub will organise a series of tests for an accurate diagnosis before recommending any course of treatment for valvular heart disease. These may include some of the following:

  • Physical exam – your GP or cardiologist will listen to your chest using a stethoscope: a whooshing sound might indicate a valve problem.
  • Echocardiography – this test uses ultrasound waves to create a clear image of your heart. A cardiologist can inspect it to get a close up view of the heart valves. A transoesophageal echocardiogram may be used in some cases: this involves passing the ultrasound device through your throat and into your chest, letting the cardiologist get an even closer look.
  • Chest x-ray – this allows the cardiologist to see the condition of your lungs and size of your heart, which could indicate other complications.

Treatments

Treatment depends on the affected valve or valves and the extend of damage. Before recommending any course of treatment, A/Prof. Stub will thoroughly explain all available options and help you come to a fully informed decision.

Your treatment options may include some of the following:

  • Lifestyle modifications – A/Prof. Dion Stub can recommend lifestyle changes to help manage symptoms and prevent progression of heart valve disease. Staying physically active and maintaining a healthy diet can help reduce your symptoms and risk of complications.
  • Medications – these may be used to help manage symptoms in earlier stages of valvular heart disease. They may be prescribed to help control blood pressure or with the goal of preventing blood clots.
  • Valvuloplasty – This minimally-invasive procedure involves passing a small mesh tube into the heart and expanding it to push the damaged valve open. It may be used if one of the heart’s valves becomes very stiff.
  • Heart valve replacement – this may be performed if one of the heart’s valves becomes very stiff or is unable to close properly. It involves replacing the diseased valve with replica made of animal tissue or synthetic material, allowing the heart to pump more normally.

Consult A Cardiologist

Ready to see a cardiologist?  Give us a call on 1300 765 865

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