What is a leaky heart valve?
What is a leaky heart valve? Is it dangerous? How serious is a leaking valve and how is it treated? When people discover that they have a leaky valve in the heart, these are often the first questions that come to mind. And for safety, they should be.
Problems with the heart and its valves should never be ignored or taken lightly. They can threaten your health and your life, even when there aren’t any symptoms. Heart valve regurgitation (sometimes called a leaky heart valve) is no exception.
Valve regurgitation is blood that leaks back through a damaged or defective heart valve when the heart beats. The heart contains two atrioventricular valves and two semilunar valves. These valves serve as trapdoors between the heart’s chambers, helping blood to flow through them in one direction. When blood flows backwards through one of the valves, symptoms and complications can occur.
What does a leaking heart valve mean?
Having a leaky heart valve means that you have a heart condition that can be serious. In some cases, people with this medical problem require heart valve regurgitation treatment. What is a leaky heart valve? It is a potentially life-threatening heart valve disease. Therefore, it is important to monitor the condition closely and take steps towards reducing the risk of dangerous complications.
Regurgitation can affect any heart valve. With aortic regurgitation, blood flows back from the aorta into the left ventricle, while with mitral regurgitation, blood refluxes from the left ventricle into the left atrium. When there’s tricuspid regurgitation, blood trickles into the right atrium from the right ventricle. With pulmonary regurgitation, there is backflow from the pulmonary artery into the right ventricle.
The percentage of blood that flows back through a valve when the heart beats is called the regurgitant fraction. Healthcare professionals measure this as the amount of blood that regurgitates into a corresponding chamber of the heart divided by stroke volume. Stroke volume is the quantity of blood that the left and right ventricles pump into the aorta and pulmonary artery per heartbeat.
What causes a leaky heart valve?
Valve regurgitation can have many different causes. Causes of mitral regurgitation include mitral valve prolapse, Marfan’s syndrome, and rheumatic fever, infective endocarditis, heart attacks, and cardiomyopathy. Tricuspid regurgitation can be caused by pulmonary hypertension, carcinoid tumors, and radiation therapy, as well as drugs like phentermine/fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine.
With pulmonary regurgitation, causes include carcinoid syndrome, connective tissue disease, and congestive abnormalities, as well as heart defects such as Tetralogy of Fallot. Hypertension, rheumatic heart disease, syphilitic aortitis, and aortic dissection are all possible causes of aortic regurgitation. Osteogenesis imperfecta and reactive arthritis have also been associated with the condition.
Many times, valve regurgitation can be linked to birth abnormalities and risk factors such as aging. The heart’s valves tend to deteriorate as people age, and it is not uncommon to find a leaking heart valve in elderly individuals. Alcohol abuse, malnutrition, and the use of chemo medications and drugs like phenothiazine, lithium, and sulphonamide also increase the risk of valve regurgitation.
What does a leaky heart valve feel like?
It depends on the severity of the condition and if there are leaky heart symptoms. It also depends on the type of heart valve regurgitation. Valve regurgitation can be acute or chronic. When it is acute, intense symptoms may occur suddenly. This is usually a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. When valve regurgitation is chronic, symptoms may develop or intensify over time.
Acute heart valve regurgitation typically produces symptoms such as heart palpitations and shortness of breath. There may also be cardiogenic shock symptoms like rapid breathing, sweating, and confusion. Cardiogenic shock, which often occurs with papillary muscle/chordae tendineae rupture and infective endocarditis, can result in loss of consciousness, coma, or death if not treated.
What is a leaky heart valve? Sometimes, it is chronic condition that causes no symptoms initially. Or, it causes symptoms that aren’t really bothersome. As the disease progresses, leaky heart valve symptoms may occur or worsen. These include angina, dyspnea/orthopnea, and coughing, fatigue (especially with physical exertion), and palpitations. There may also be syncope (fainting).
How serious is a leaky heart valve?
Is a leaky heart valve serious? It is, in some people. Depending on the problem with the valve, heart valve regurgitation can be severe. Severe leakage can place considerable strain on the heart. It can cause complications such heart failure, blood clotting, atrial fibrillation, edema, and pulmonary hypertension, all of which can be life threatening and cause leaky heart valve symptoms.
Severe valve regurgitation also increases the risk of developing infective endocarditis. This is a serious infection of the endocardium that can drastically shorten leaking heart valve life expectancy. It can develop if bacteria enter the bloodstream through dental procedures or activities such as tooth brushing. Untreated endocarditis almost always leads to leaky heart valve death.
In cases of severe regurgitation, leaking heart valve treatment is normally required. This commonly involves undergoing leaky heart valve surgery to repair or replace the valve and its structures. Afterwards, the patient may need to take blood-thinning medications. When regurgitation isn’t severe, doctors may prescribe certain drugs to relieve symptoms and prevent complications.
How do doctors diagnose a leaky heart valve?
Medical professionals perform diagnostic tests to establish the presence and severity of a leaky heart valve. One of the most common valve regurgitation tests is the transthoracic echocardiogram. During this test, doctors run a transducer over the body to produce and record internal images of the heart from different angles. For some, a transesophageal echocardiogram may be necessary.
The electrocardiogram (often conducted alongside an echocardiogram) and chest x-rays can also be useful in producing a leaky heart valve diagnosis. Other diagnostics tests for valve regurgitation include magnetic resonance imaging (the MRI scan), computed tomography (the CT scan), and stress tests or exercise testing, as well as holter monitor testing and cardiac event recording.
Cardiac catheterization is another test that can reveal valve regurgitation. The invasive test involves inserting a catheter into an arm or groin artery and injecting dye to get a detailed view of the heart and its arteries. Before performing diagnostics tests for a leaky valve, physicians typically perform a thorough physical examination and listen for a heart murmur with a stethoscope.
How is a leaky heart valve treated?
Drugs such as beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers are generally effective in the treatment of mild to moderate heart valve regurgitation. For people researching “What is a leaky heart valve,” medications like digoxin and diuretics (water pills) can also help to keep the condition under control. To prevent endocarditis, some patients must take antibiotics before dental work.
Apart from medications, individuals with a leaking heart valve are typically advised to quit smoking and avoid drinking alcohol. Doctors also recommend following a heart-healthy diet low in sugar, refined grains, saturated and trans-unsaturated fats, and salt. Leaky heart valve exercise can be helpful, but it isn’t always safe. Patients should consult their physician before starting exercise routines.
How is a leaky heart valve fixed? Leaky heart valve surgery. Open heart surgery, which involves cutting open the sternum to repair or replace the problem valve and its structures, is the standard with regurgitation. Nevertheless, minimally invasive heart surgery is becoming increasingly common, and procedures like the MitraClip now make leaky heart valve treatment without surgery possible.