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About valvular heart disease: symptoms, causes and diagnosis
Valvular heart diseases (VHD) affect how the valves function to regulate blood flow into and out of the heart. Often considered asymptomatic, their progression can lead to further complications and it is often associated with heart failure.
Learn more about the different types of valvular heart disease,
their symptoms, risk factors, and how to detect them.
What are valvular heart diseases or VHD?
Your heart works in a synchronized way. It fills with blood and then pumps it out thanks to four valves that open and close with every heartbeat: Aortic, pulmonary, mitral and tricuspid.
Normally, valves ensure that blood flows with proper force in the proper direction.
In valvular heart disease, damage to the valves can take the shape of:
○ a stenosis: the valve becomes too narrow and hardened to open fully.
○ an insufficiency: the valve is unable to close fully, causing the blood to leak backward.
Schematic view of the 4 heart valves. Composed with a set of flaps, they should open enough and close tightly to prevent blood from flowing in the wrong direction.
What are the most prevalent types of valvular heart disease?
This form happens when the heart’s aortic valve narrows, which hinders the flow of blood to the body.
This is a mitral valve closing fault that allows part of the blood to flow backward into the left atrium.
Also known as aortic insufficiency, it occurs when the aortic leaflets do not close tightly: each time the left ventricle relaxes, leakage of the aortic valve causes blood to flow backward into the left ventricle, instead of flowing out to the body.
What causes valvular heart disease?
As we age, our heart valves become thicker and stiffer. The European Society of Cardiology states that “the incidence of Aortic Stenosis increases sharply after the age of 65, explaining why its prevalence reaches 5% after the age of 80.”
A person can be born with congenital valve disease.
This disease results from untreated or under-treated streptococcal infection and may cause damage to the valves.
Blood pressure disorders may also be independantly associated with valvular heart diseases.
“Above a systolic blood pressure of 115 mmHg, every additional 20 mmHg was associated with a 41% higher risk of aortic stenosis and a 38% higher risk of aortic regurgitation later in life” (source: escardio.org)
This disease of the heart muscle may be associated with valvular heart disease.
What are the symptoms of valvular heart disease?
Because heart valve problems may be asymptomatic, they may often remain underdiagnosed.
When symptoms appear, they are similar to those associated with congestive heart failure.
Shortness of breath
Swelling of the feet
Wheezing after limited physical exertion
Fatigue or dizziness
Approximately 2,5% of the US population is affected by valvular heart disease. The prevalence increases with age and reaches almost 13% for people older than 75.
If valvular heart disease progresses, the heart valve will become increasingly damaged. If the valve does not open fully or close properly, it can put extra strain on your heart. Under such circumstances, the heart pumps harder to force the blood, which can lead to atrial fibrillation (AFib) or heart failure. A damaged valve is also much more sensitive to infections.
Without surgical intervention, the survival rate of a severe symptomatic aortic stenosis is only 20% after 5 years.
Valvular heart disease should be detected before the heart muscle is affected in order not to delay a possible surgical intervention, such as a valve replacement. Usually, the VHD is diagnosed in two steps:
How should VHD be treated?
The disease’s evolution must be monitored so the physician can implement surgical intervention when needed.
Depending on the state of degradation of the valves, the extent of leakage or stenosis, and the impact on the heart muscle, surgical or interventional treatment is the gold-standard treatment for valvular heart disease.
Heart valve repair is used to fix defects in the heart valve. If the valve’s lesions make it impossible to repair, the valve will need to be replaced.
BPM Core & valvular heart disease
BPM Core is the first smart blood pressure monitor with ECG & digital stethoscope. This advanced at-home device can be used to provide early detection of the most prevalent types of valvular heart disease.
When positioned to the left side of the user’s chest, BPM Core will capture the sound of the heart. This signal is analyzed to detect valvular issues. Results are displayed on the device and within the Health Mate app, where they can also be heard.