Put your hand on your chest. Can you feel your heart beating? That’s your heart doing its job – delivering blood to all the organs of your body.
There are four main heart valves – mitral, tricuspid, aortic and pulmonary – that separate the compartments of the heart. Together, they keep the blood moving in the right direction. Think of it like a beach ball – when you fill it, the valve lets the air in one direction, but it doesn’t come out.
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So, what happens to your heart when you have a problem with one (or more) of your heart valves?
Common issues include the valve being too narrow (this is called stenosis) or if the valve is leaking (doctors call this regurgitation). If the valve is leaking, your heart must work extra hard to pump blood. Think about the beach ball again – if the air you’ve adding in keeps leaking out, you’re going to have to blow extra hard to inflate the ball. In other words, your heart is putting in overtime to pump blood if your valve is leaking or too narrow for all the blood to travel through.
Symptoms start to arise when the heart is no longer able to deliver blood to all the organs. Depending on which heart valve is in trouble, some symptoms will be more evident than others and may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Leg swelling
To diagnose a heart valve issue, a doctor listens to your heart with a stethoscope so they can hear the sounds the valves make when they open and close. If a heart valve problem is suspected, the next step is to order an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of your heart) to confirm.
What treatment options are available?
Treatment options include:
- Valve repair
- Valve replacement
Many valve problems can be managed using medications to make the heart more efficient despite the valve problem. In some cases, medication does not work so the heart valve needs to either be repaired or replaced.
For many years, surgeons performed different open heart procedures to repair or replace heart valves. Recently, a new technique called trans catheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) has proven to be a good solution for certain patients with narrow heart valves (aortic stenosis).
What are the benefits of a TAVR?
TAVR has revolutionized the treatment of aortic stenosis. During this procedure, a new aortic valve is inserted in your heart through a very small incision in the leg. The new valve essentially replaces the old narrow valve in the aortic position. By minimizing the invasiveness of the procedure, most patients have a quick recovery and can go home as early as the next day after the procedure.
If something feels off, it’s important to listen to your heart (literally and figuratively) and get checked out!