What is Heart Valve Disease?
Heart valves can develop one or both of the following problems:
- The valve opening becomes narrow. This is called stenosis. The valve may not close completely. This is called insufficiency or regurgitation.
- When a heart valve narrows, the heart's pumping efficiency decreases, and a strain on the pumping chambers of the heart may occur. When a heart valve fails to close completely, blood can flow back into the chamber from which it came. This valve condition also impairs the heart's ability to pump the necessary volume of blood to the rest of the body. For example, if a valve does not close completely, blood can pass back into the atria when the ventricle contracts instead of moving forward. Blood forced back into the atrium can build pressure. The effect of a valve that fails to close completely can be compared to a freeway with several lanes closed down - not only does this slow down traffic movement, it also forces traffic to back up.
Physicians can detect a heart valve problem by taking a thorough history, listening to your heart, and conducting tests such as an echocardiogram. A problem may result from a number of signs and symptoms:
- Chest pain or tightening of the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Inability to sleep
- General fatigue and inability to perform everyday activities
- Swollen ankles and wrists or an abnormally large abdomen
- Enlarged veins in the face and neck
- What is a heart rhythm disturbance/cardiac arrhythmia?
An heart rhythm disturbance or arrhythmia is a change in the regular beat of the heart. The heart may seem to skip a beat or beat irregularly or very fast or very slowly.
Does having a heart rhythm disturbance/cardiac arrhythmia mean that a person has heart disease?
No, not necessarily. Many arrhythmias occur in people who do not have underlying heart disease.