Valvular heart disease refers to diseases that affect any of the four heart valves. Of the four heart valves, two are on the right, the pulmonary and tricuspid valves. The other two are on the left; they are the aortic and mitral valves. Valvular heart disease can be present at birth (congenital) or it can be acquired later in life. Blood normally flows in one direction through the valves due to the forces of the heartbeats. With the disease, the valves become hardened, narrow, or are unable to close properly, which can allow blood to travel in the wrong direction or at the wrong time.
Some people with valvular heart disease never have noticeable symptoms. In those that do, symptoms may include a racing or very hard heartbeat (palpitations), fatigue, dizziness, fever, and rapid weight gain. The risk of valvular heart disease increases with age. Most people diagnosed with the disease are older than 50, and many are older than 75. Acquired valvular heart disease is often caused by another disease or infection; the most common causes are rheumatic fever and endocarditis. Other risk factors for the disease include smoking cigarettes, abusing alcohol, being overweight, and uncontrolled blood sugar for people with diabetes.
In order to diagnose the disease, your doctor will perform a physical exam. They may listen to your heartbeat for a swishing sound (a murmur). The doctor may also suggest tests to confirm the diagnosis such as MRIs or they may try to see into your heart using an angiogram. There are medications available for treatment. However, in more severe cases, surgery to replace the valve may be necessary. If you have been diagnosed with valvular heart disease, talk to your doctor and cardiologist about the most current treatment options. Support organizations are also a good source of information and will help connect you with others living with valvular heart disease.