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How Are Valve Diseases Diagnosed?
Your heart doctor can tell if you have valve disease by talking to you about your symptoms, performing a physical exam, and giving you other tests.
During a physical exam, your doctor will listen to your heart to hear the sounds the heart makes as the valves open and close. A murmur is a swishing sound made by blood flowing through a stenotic or leaky valve. Your doctor can also tell if your heart is enlarged or if your heart rhythm is irregular.
The doctor will listen to your lungs to hear if you are retaining fluid in your lungs, which shows your heart is not able to pump as well as it should.
By examining your body, the doctor can find clues about your circulation and the functioning of your other organs.
After the physical exam, the doctor may order diagnostic tests. These may include:
- Transesophageal echocardiography
- Cardiac catheterization (also called an angiogram)
- Radionuclide scans
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
By looking at the results, repeated over time, your doctor can also see the progress of your valve disease. This will help him or her make decisions about your treatment.
How Is Heart Valve Disease Treated?
Treatment for heart valve disease depends on the type and severity of valve disease. There are three goals of treatment for heart valve disease: protecting your valve from further damage; lessening symptoms; and repairing or replacing valves.
Protecting your valve from further damage.
If you have valve disease, you are at risk for developing endocarditis, a serious condition. People who have mitral valve prolapse without thickening or regurgitation/leaking are not at risk of developing endocarditis.
You are still at risk for endocarditis, even if your valve is repaired or replaced through surgery. To protect yourself:
- Tell your doctors and dentist you have valve disease. You may want to carry an identification card with this information. The American Heart Association website (www.americanheart.org) has a bacterial endocarditis wallet card that you may download; or call your local American Heart Association office or the national office at 1-800-AHA-USA1.
- Call your doctor if you have symptoms of an infection (sore throat, general body aches, fever).
- Take good care of your teeth and gums to prevent infections. See your dentist for regular visits.
- Take antibiotics before you undergo any procedure that may cause bleeding, such as any dental work (even a basic teeth cleaning), invasive tests (any test that may involve blood or bleeding), and most major or minor surgery. Your doctor can provide you with a card that provides specific antibiotic guidelines.
Medications. You may be prescribed medications to treat your symptoms and to lessen the chance of further valve damage. Some medications may be stopped after you have had valve surgery to correct your problem. Other medications may need to be taken all your life. Medications may include:
|Common Types of Medications||What They Do|
|Diuretics ("water pills")||Remove extra fluid from the tissues and bloodstream; lessen the symptoms of heart failure|
|Antiarrhythmic medications||Control the heart's rhythm|
|Vasodilators||Lessen the heart's work. Also encourages blood to flow in a forward direction, rather than backwards through a leaky valve.|
|ACE inhibitors||A type of vasodilator used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure|
|Beta blockers||Treat high blood pressure and lessen the heart's work by helping the heart beat slower and less forcefully. Used to decrease palpitations in some patients.|
|Anticoagulants ("blood thinners")||Prolong the clotting time of your blood, if you are at risk for developing blood clots on your heart valve.|
Follow your doctor's orders when taking medications. Know the names of your medications, what they are for, and how often to take them.
Surgery and Other Procedures. The diagnostic tests your heart doctor orders help to identify the location, type, and extent of your valve disease. The results of these tests, the structure of your heart, your age, and your lifestyle will help your cardiologist (heart doctor), surgeon, and you decide what type of procedure will be best for you.
Surgical options include heart valve repair or replacement. Valves can be repaired or replaced with traditional heart valve surgery or a minimally invasive heart valve surgical procedure. Heart valves may also be repaired by other procedures such as percutaneous balloon valvotomy.