Heart valve abnormalities: causes, symptoms, treatment

A heart can only pump blood effectively if the heart valves and heart muscle are healthy. The left side of the heart pumps blood through the body under pressure. The valves on this side, the aortic valve and the mitral valve, therefore suffer the most from problems. How do heart valve abnormalities arise, how are they diagnosed and how are valve abnormalities treated? Symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness may indicate a malfunctioning heart valve.

Article content

  • The heart
  • Heart valve abnormalities/heart valve defects
  • Causes of heart valve abnormalities
  • Symptoms of heart valve abnormalities
  • Complications of heart valve abnormalities
  • Types of heart valve abnormalities
  • Diagnosis of heart valve abnormalities
  • Treatment of heart valve abnormalities
  • Prognosis of heart valve abnormalities

The heart

The heart is a strongly muscular organ and is about the size of a clenched fist. The heart is located behind the sternum, between the lungs and usually on the left side of the chest. The heart receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it through the arteries. The veins return deoxygenated blood to the heart. The heart then pumps this oxygen-poor blood through the lungs. The coronary arteries supply the heart with oxygen.

Heart valve abnormalities/heart valve defects

Heart valve abnormalities are disorders of the heart valves that hinder the blood flow through the heart. The heart contains four valves, these valves ensure that blood flows in one direction. They open to allow blood to pass through and then close (when the heart muscle contracts). If damage has occurred to a heart valve, less blood than normal can flow through it. If the valve cannot close completely, blood may leak in the wrong direction. The heart then has to work harder to pump blood through the body.

Causes of heart valve abnormalities

Some valve abnormalities are congenital , but the abnormalities can also develop later in a person’s life . It can be caused by aging, but the lining of the heart can also become infected and a heart attack can also be the cause. In the past, acute rheumatism was regularly the cause of damaged heart valves. However, this almost never happens in developed countries anymore.

Symptoms of heart valve abnormalities

You do not have to have any complaints with a heart valve defect. But symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness could indicate a malfunctioning heart valve.

Complications of heart valve abnormalities

  • With a serious valve defect, the heart is less efficient and chronic heart failure can develop.
  • A disturbance in the heart rhythm can also occur.
  • Damaged heart valves are more susceptible to inflammation (bacterial endocarditis).

Types of heart valve abnormalities

  • Mitral valve stenosis and aortic valve stosis: the valve stems do not open completely, the opening is then too narrow.
  • In mitral insufficiency and aortic valve insufficiency, a valve cannot close sufficiently and blood can leak back.
  • Stenosis and insufficiency sometimes occur simultaneously in a valve. Mitral valve prolapse is often the cause of insufficiency. When the mitral valve is closed, it bends backwards, which prevents the valve from closing properly. The blood can leak back.

Diagnosis of heart valve abnormalities

Valve abnormalities can be discovered accidentally during a medical examination, and there may also be physical complaints that indicate heart valve abnormalities. The doctor will listen for heart murmurs, which are caused by blood flowing past abnormal valves. An ECG can be made to check the electrical activity of the heart. A chest X-ray and an echocardiogram will be taken to view the heart and the flow of circulating blood.

Treatment of heart valve abnormalities

If treatment is necessary, medications are often used that make the heartbeat stronger or counteract the complaints. If the valve abnormalities are serious, surgical intervention may be necessary (repair or replacement of valves). Infection must be prevented, you will often be given antibiotics before the operation. In the past, the entire chest had to be opened, but now this only occurs sporadically. In 2020, doctors have many more techniques at their disposal and can, for example, replace or create a heart valve through the groin.

Prognosis of heart valve abnormalities

The prognosis depends on the type of heart valve abnormality.

  • Aortic valve insufficiency: If the damaged aortic valve is repaired or replaced, the outlook is usually good. Life expectancy also depends on the age at which the operation takes place and the type of prosthetic valve used.
  • Aortic valve stenosis: The outlook is good if the stenosis is treated before the heart muscle is severely damaged.
  • Mitral regurgitation: The outlook is good if treatment begins before the heart has become seriously damaged.
  • Mitral stenosis: the outlook also depends on the age at which the operation takes place, but it also depends on the type of heart valve used.