Heart valve diseases, in the simplest form, can be said to occur when the heart valves fail to function in the manner they should. The heart has four valves which are located at the exit of the four chambers of the heart and are entrusted with the task of maintaining one-way blood flow in them.
Types of Heart Valve Diseases
There are various types of heart valve diseases some of which are:
This occurs when the valve opening to let the blood flow in forwards is smaller than it normally is owing to fused or stiff leaflets. The narrowing of this opening for blood flow puts pressure on the heart which can result in the heart working harder to ensure blood flow which might even lead to heart failure. Valvular stenosis can involve one or all of the four heart valves getting stenotic.
Valvular insufficiency is the result of failure of heart valves to close tightly, also known as leaky valves. In the event the valves fail to close tightly or seal properly, the blood starts leaking. Similar to Valvular stenosis, the leaking of blood puts pressure on the heart and it has to work harder for making up for the loss of blood which leaks during the process. It can also result in less blood being pumped by the heart.
Congenital Valve Diseases
Heart valve diseases can be both congenital and acquired, i.e. developed later in life. The congenital valve disease mostly affects the pulmonic or aortic valves, which means the valves may have defects. These defects include the leaflets not being correctly attached to the annulus, malformed leaflets and valves not being the right size.
An example of congenital valve disease is bicuspid aortic valve disease which affects the aortic valve. This disease of the valve entails the valve having two leaflets instead of three. The absence of a third leaflet in the valve may make it leaky or stiff which mean it can cause a backward leakage of blood owing to failure to close properly or experience stiffness which may hinder the blood from moving forwards.
Acquired Valve Diseases
Acquired valve diseases are ones which are developed later in life and affect valves which were once normal. The possible causes may include infections and diseases which can change the structure of the valve.
This is a condition where the heart valves are under attack from bacteria in the bloodstream. This attack on the valves results in the valves sustaining holes and growths besides scarring which can give rise to the leaky valves. The germs, especially bacteria, may enter the bloodstream as a result of severe infection, IV drug use, surgery and dental procedures.
This is the result of an untreated bacterial infection which may occur in the throat. Though the effect it may have on the heart valves may not be apparent for the next 20 to 40 years, the disease can lead to the leaflets becoming inflamed while they may also stick together. Moreover, the leaflets can also get shortened, thickened, rigid or scarred.
Mitral Valve Prolapse
This causes the valve tissues to stretch and become abnormal, leading the valve to leak. MVP usually does not have any symptoms associated with it.
Other Common Causes
- Other common reasons include:
- Connective tissue diseases
- Aortic aneurysms
- Heart attack
Among the rare causes for heart valve diseases are radiation, certain types of drugs and tumors.
Heart valve diseases can therefore be both congenital and acquired and since they interfere with the functioning of the heart, they are detrimental to a person’s overall health and wellbeing.