Knowing the causes, symptoms, and risk factors for heart valve disease can empower patients to reduce their risk for this potentially fatal condition.
Heart valve disease occurs when a valve in the heart becomes damaged or diseased. The CDC reports that heart valve disease affects an estimated 2.5% of people in the United States. This disease can affect anyone of any age but is more common among older adults.
Knowing the causes, symptoms, and risk factors of heart valve disease can help you determine whether you have this condition. If you have heart valve disease, early detection and treatment can help you avoid more serious complications. Your doctor can perform a physical exam and diagnostic testing to see if you have heart valve disease.
Here’s how to tell if you have heart valve disease and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center if you need help diagnosing or treating this condition.
Causes Of Heart Valve Disease
A damaged or diseased valve in your heart can eventually lead to heart valve disease. Some people are born with one or more damaged heart valves. Other people may develop one or more diseased heart valves due to certain lifestyle behaviors, infections, and other heart conditions.
Three common heart valve problems include regurgitation, stenosis, and atresia. According to the American Heart Association, heart valve problems can cause your heart to work harder at pumping blood.
- Regurgitation occurs when the flaps on your heart valves do not close properly. This causes blood to leak backward toward your heart.
- Stenosis occurs when the flaps on your valves become thickened or stiff. In some instances, they may even fuse. This causes the valve opening to become more narrow and reduces blood flow through that particular valve.
- Atresia occurs when a heart valve isn’t formed properly. This can cause a layer of tissue to block and prevent blood from flowing between your heart chambers.
Symptoms Of Heart Valve Disease
Many people with heart valve disease do not experience or show symptoms for many years until their disease becomes severe. This disease can progress slowly, given how certain lifestyle behaviors can contribute to this heart condition. During this time, the heart may compensate and gradually work harder at pumping blood until a valve stops working completely.
It’s also important to know that heart valve disease may be severe even if you do not have any symptoms. This is why you should visit your doctor any time you experience a new symptom or feel like anything is “off” about your health.
When they do occur, symptoms of heart valve disease include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath, even when sitting or lying down
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Swelling of the ankles and feet
- Inability to maintain a normal activity level
- Irregular heart rate and chest palpitations
- Whooshing sound, or heart murmur that can be heard through a stethoscope
See your doctor if you experience one or more of the above symptoms at any time. Your doctor may refer you to a heart doctor if they think your symptoms are heart-related.
Risk Factors For Heart Valve Disease
Heart valve disease can affect anyone. However, some factors may increase your risk for heart valve disease.
Common risk factors for heart valve disease include:
- Older age. Calcium deposits can build up on heart valves as you age. This can cause them to become thickened and stiff and unable to open and close as easily.
- Heart infection, like endocarditis.
- A history of heart disease or heart attack. These conditions can damage heart valves and cause scar tissue to build up.
- Atherosclerosis. This condition occurs when plaque builds up inside the arteries.
- Meeting risk factors for heart disease. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
- Rheumatic fever. This type of fever usually occurs if you have strep throat and do not treat it. Rheumatic fever can lead to narrowed or leaky heart valves.
- Having heart problems that were present at birth.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation can cause your arteries to stiffen and affect the functioning of your heart valves.
- Autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune conditions like lupus can affect the health and functioning of certain heart valves.
- Carcinoid syndrome. This condition causes a tumor in the digestive tract to release chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals can affect the health and functioning of certain heart valves.
- Weight loss medications. Drugs like fenfluramine and phentermine prescribed to treat obesity have been linked to heart valve problems and heart valve disease.
- Marfan’s syndrome. This condition affects connective tissue in the heart. It can also affect the health and functioning of heart valves.
- Smoking. The chemicals and toxins in tobacco products can affect the functioning and health of your heart valves, blood vessels, and heart. It can also alter the shape of your heart valves to affect the way they open and close.
- Obesity and extra weight. Carrying excess weight and fat on your body causes your heart to work harder at pumping and transporting blood to all your organs. This extra pressure on the heart can often lead to heart valve disease.
Meet and talk with your doctor regularly if you have one or more of the above risk factors of heart valve disease. Your doctor can keep an eye on your overall health and perform testing if you or your healthcare team think you might have heart valve disease.
Lifestyle Behaviors That May Cause Heart Valve Disease
Certain lifestyle habits and behaviors can make it more likely for you to develop heart valve disease. This is one of the reasons heart valve disease can develop gradually over time. Fortunately, making positive and healthy changes to your lifestyle may help reverse heart damage and prevent you from getting this disease.
Lifestyle behaviors that may cause heart valve disease include:
- Eating lots of foods that are high in sugar, fat, and sodium.
- Lack of exercise and physical activity.
- Poor stress management.
- Poor quality sleep, or lack of sleep.
- Alcohol and drug misuse, such as heavy drinking or using illegal drugs.
If you practice any of the above lifestyle behaviors, take steps right now to change those behaviors. The sooner you can make healthy changes, the sooner your overall health will improve.
Ways To Prevent Heart Valve Disease
The most effective way to prevent heart valve disease is to lead a healthy lifestyle. However, it can be difficult to avoid heart valve disease if you were born with defective heart valves or have a history of heart disease.
If you have a chronic medical condition or a history of heart problems, work closely with your doctor to reduce your risk for heart valve disease. Otherwise, here are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Smoking is a significant risk factor for many types of heart problems in addition to heart valve disease. It also increases your risk for several cancers. Stop smoking as soon as possible, or talk to your doctor about medications and other treatments that can help you quit.
Modify Your Diet
The foods you eat play a vital role in your physical and mental health. Stop eating foods like pastries, fried chicken, and meals from fast-food chains high in sugar and unhealthy fats. Also, stop eating foods like frozen pizzas and TV dinners that contain lots of sodium and processed ingredients.
Instead, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and heart-healthy fats like those in fish, nuts, and avocados. Whole grains, yogurt, poultry, and seeds are also highly nutritious and can reduce your risk for heart problems.
Any exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise, can strengthen your heart and improve blood flow. Exercise can also help widen your blood vessels. Start exercising regularly, and make sure to do cardiovascular activities like walking, swimming, and cycling.
Chronic stress can increase your blood pressure and heart rate. It also puts undue stress on your heart health as a whole. Find new, healthy ways to manage stress, or start eliminating causes of stress from your life.
Drink Less Alcohol
Alcohol has sedative effects that can slow your heart rate and breathing to dangerously low levels if you drink too much. It also contributes to high blood pressure, weight gain, and heart disease. Start drinking less alcohol, or consider eliminating alcohol from your diet to see an improvement in your overall health.
Take Medications As Directed
Follow the directions on the labels of your prescription medications, and take them only as prescribed. Do not take more or less medication than directed, and do not skip doses. Misusing your prescription drugs can increase your risk for health problems and side effects, including heart valve disease.
Treating Heart Valve Disease At Lompoc Valley Medical Center
Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of board-certified doctors who can help you manage and treat heart conditions, including heart valve disease. We also offer services like medically assisted weight loss that can help you reduce your risk of heart disease.
Contact us today at (805)-737-3382 to learn more about our many healthcare services.