The heart contains four valves which control blood flow with small flaps of tissue called leaflets. If the leaflets do not open and close properly, or if the valves become blocked or narrowed (a condition called stenosis), the heart cannot function.
Symptoms of stenosis and heart valve disease
Some people will have no symptoms at all yet still have a valve problem that requires treatment. Others may experience sudden or slowly-developing symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness or inability to maintain regular activity level
- Feeling faint, lightheaded, weak or dizzy
- Heart palpitations (rapid rhythms or skips)
- Chest pain, pressure or tightness
Causes of Stenosis and Heart Valve Disease
While some heart valve disorders are present at birth (congenital), most result from general wear and tear with age.
Diagnosing stenosis and heart valve disease
If stenosis or heart valve disease are suspected, your physician will perform a physical examination, listening to your heart with a stethoscope, and may order one or more of the following diagnostic tests or procedures:
- Exercise stress test
- Chest X-rays
- CT scan
- Cardiac catherization
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
- Holter monitor
Treatments for stenosis and heart valve disease
Some people with mild valve problems will never require surgery. Once a heart valve begins to affect the heart’s ability to pump blood, however, it will likely need to be surgically repaired or replaced. While open heart surgery is often required, some conditions can be addressed with minimally-invasive procedures.
Types of stenosis and heart valve disease
- Mitral valve stenosis – a narrowing (stenosis) of the mitral valve in the heart, which controls blood flow from the upper left chamber to the lower left chamber of the heart. Mitral valve stenosis can result in poor blood flow between these chambers, affecting how much blood and oxygen reach the body’s organs and tissues. Mild cases require monitoring. More severe cases are treated with medications or surgery, including mitral valvulotomy, balloon valvuloplasty or mitral valve replacement.
- Aortic valve stenosis – a narrowing of the aortic valve, commonly caused by calcium build-up that makes the leaflets too stiff to open and close properly. This narrowing can block blood flow from the heart and cause a back-up of flow and pressure in the heart and to the lungs, eventually leading to heart failure. Mild cases require monitoring. More severe cases are treated with medications or surgery, including balloon valvuloplasty, aortic valve replacement or transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR).
- Mitral valve regurgitation – occurs when the leaflets of the mitral valve don't open and close properly, causing leakage (regurgitation) of blood back into the upper chamber of the heart. Minor leaks may go unnoticed, but severe leaks can cause serious problems and illness, including congestion in the lungs and eventually an enlargement of the heart muscle. Problematic cases may require surgical repair or replacement of the valve.
- Aortic valve regurgitation – occurs when the heart’s aortic valve does not close completely, causing some of the blood that was pumped out of the heart’s main pumping chamber (the left ventricle) to leak back into it (regurgitate). Severe cases can result in heart failure. Mild aortic regurgitation may be treatable with medications to reduce blood clotting and reduce the risk of stroke, but surgical repair or replacement are often needed.
Managing risk for stenosis and heart valve disease
While the most common cause of heart valve disease is aging, the following conditions can increase your risk of developing heart valve disease:
- Rheumatic fever
- Infective endocarditis
- Heart problems, such as heart attack, heart failure or arrhythmia
- Congenital heart defects
- Heart murmur
- Radiation therapy to the chest
If you have been diagnosed with a mild form of valve disease, be on the lookout for signs your condition is worsening and, maintain regular check-ins with a healthcare provider.
Are you at risk for heart disease? Take our online Heart Risk Assessment.
Stenosis and heart valve disease specialists
The experienced heart specialists at Houston Heart are experts at diagnosing and treating stenosis and heart valve disease.
To learn more, schedule an appointment.