Heart Valve Disease


Your heart is a pump that keeps blood flowing throughout your body day in and day out. It pumps or beats about 100,000 times each day. With every beat, the heart draws blood into four different chambers and then contracts to force it out to the lungs or the rest of the body.

Blood flows through valves that open with each beat and then shut tightly to ensure blood does not flow or leak backwards. However, like any plumbing system, parts can wear out or leak.

Heart valves can develop three basic problems:

  • Regurgitation or backflow – when a valve doesn't close tightly and blood leaks backwards
  • Stenosis – flaps of a valve thicken, stiffen or fuse together
  • Atresia – a heart valve lacks an opening for blood to pass through

Symptoms of heart valve disease can include:

  • Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Discomfort in your chest
  • Palpitations or rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Swelling of your ankles, feet, or abdomen
  • Rapid weight gain through fluid buildup

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should talk to your Mercy primary care doctor or heart specialist. 

With access to the very best diagnostic and treatment tools, your Mercy doctor can pinpoint the problem and offer you safe and effective ways to treat your condition. 

How Is Heart Valve Disease Diagnosed?

In addition to a physical exam, your doctor might order diagnostic tests, including:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) – measures the electrical activity of your heart
  • Echocardiogram – uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart
  • Cardiac catheterization – a flexible tube is threaded through a blood vessel to your heart. This allows your doctor to study the inside of your arteries and use dyes to see the pumping function of your heart.

How Is Heart Valve Disease Treated?

Treatment for heart valve problems depends on the type and severity of the disease, and focuses on protecting your valve from further damage, lessening symptoms and repairing or replacing valves. Treatments include:

  • Medications – to treat your symptoms and to lessen the chance of further valve damage
  • Balloon valvotomy – to widen a valve with an inflated balloon at the end of a catheter threaded to the heart
  • Open heart surgery – to repair or replace a damaged valve
  • Minimally invasive surgery – to replace or repair a damaged value using a catheter, such as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR)
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