A heart valve is very similar to a valve on a regular pump; it allows blood to flow freely in one direction only. Heart valve problems occur when blood flow leaks backward through the valve (leaky valve) or blocked (valve won’t open). According to the American Heart Association, about 5 million Americans are diagnosed each year with valve problems.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of heart valve problems are similar to those of congestive heart failure and include:
- Weakness or exhaustion with little exertion
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid weight gain
- Swelling in abdomen, ankles or feet
- Confusion or trouble concentrating
- Dizziness or fainting
- Racing or irregular heartbeat
How are heart valve problems corrected?
To correct heart valve problems, surgery often is needed. In some instances, valves can be repaired; in others, they must be replaced. The two most common replacement valves are tissue and mechanical.
Tissue valves come from many sources, but 80 to 90 percent of them come from cows. They last 15 to 20 years and do not require patients to take the blood thinner, Coumadin.
Mechanical valves are synthetic and typically last longer than tissue valves. However, they cause an increased chance of clot formation, so patients are required to be on a blood-thinning medication, such as Coumadin, for life, sometimes creating other complications from its long-term use.
When valve repair is possible, surgery often is less extensive; and patients typically do not have to be on a blood thinner. Valve repair is usually most appropriate for patients with mitral valve problems, the valve between the left atrium and the left ventricle.
Because heart valve surgery patients are at an increased risk of valve infection from germs entering their blood stream, they may need to be pre-treated with antibiotics before having some dental work, endoscopic procedures or other types of surgery.
How will I know if my implanted heart valve needs repair or replacing?
Symptoms of an implanted valve needing repair or replacement mimic original valve problem symptoms. Usually, symptoms are slow to appear and then gradually progress. A heart ultrasound and echocardiogram can help diagnose the problem.