Valvular Heart Disease: How to Recognize Symptoms and Seek Treatment for Optimal Health
Valvular heart disease (VHD) is a term used to describe any type of disorder that affects one of the four valves of the heart. Valve disorders are quite common, affecting an estimated 2 to 3 percent of people in the world. With an early diagnosis, VHD can be properly treated and managed, often avoiding more serious complications. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking treatment is key to maintaining optimal health.
Symptoms of Valvular Heart Disease
The signs and symptoms of VHD vary depending on the severity and type of valve disorder, but there are several common symptoms that may include:
- Chest pain or discomfort, which is usually described as a pressure or tightness in the chest that may worsen with activity
- Shortness of breath, especially with activity, and difficulty breathing when lying down
- Fatigue or drowsiness, which is often due to decreased oxygen supply to the body’s organs and tissues
- Rapid, irregular or fluttering heartbeat, known as palpitations
- Swelling in the legs, feet, abdomen or neck veins as a result of a buildup of fluids
- Dizziness or faintness when standing due to poor circulation
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss and determine the cause.
Diagnosing Valvular Heart Disease
If your doctor suspects that you may have VHD, they may order certain tests and procedures. These tests may include:
- A physical examination. Your doctor will listen to your heart through a stethoscope, which can reveal a heart murmur and other clues about the condition of your heart valves.
- Blood tests. These can measure your levels of troponin, a protein released when the heart is damaged.
- Echocardiography. This is an imaging test that uses sound waves to create a picture of your heart and valves.
- Electrocardiogram. This test records the electrical activity of your heart and can detect abnormal heart rhythms.
Treatment of Valvular Heart Disease
The goal of treating VHD is to control the symptoms and reduce your risk of complications. Treatment options can vary depending on the type and severity of the disorder and may involve lifestyle changes, medication or, in some cases, surgery. Common treatments for VHD include:
- Antibiotics to prevent infection in persons who are at risk for endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart valves.
- Medications to control symptoms such as chest pain, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
- Surgery to repair or replace the damaged valve, depending on the extent of the damage.
Living with Valvular Heart Disease
For some people with VHD, lifestyle changes can help reduce symptoms and improve overall heart health. These measures may involve quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, and maintaining a healthy diet and weight. Regular physical activity can also be beneficial. Your doctor can help you come up with a plan that’s right for you.
By recognizing the symptoms of VHD and seeking treatment, you can minimize your risk of serious complications and maintain your best possible health.