Don’t Let Healthy Heart Valves Bypass You

With February being National Heart Month, it is important to know your heart.

The heart has four valves: the mitral, tricuspid, aortic and pulmonary valves.

How do the heart valves work?

  • The mitral and tricuspid valves control blood flow from the atria (the heart's two upper chambers) to the ventricles (the heart's two lower chambers).
  • The aortic and pulmonary valves control blood flow out of the ventricles into the pulmonary and aorta arteries.

Types of Heart Valve Problems
Heart valves can have three basic kinds of problems:

  • Regurgitation, or backflow, occurs if a valve doesn't close tightly. Blood leaks back into the chambers rather than flowing forward through the heart or into an artery.
  • Stenosis occurs if the flaps of a valve thicken, stiffen, or fuse together. This prevents the heart valve from fully opening. As a result, not enough blood flows through the valve.
  • Atresia occurs if a heart valve lacks an opening for blood to pass through.

Some people are born with heart valve disease, which is called congenital heart valve disease, while others acquire it later in life.

What are the signs and symptoms of heart valve disease?
Heart valve disease often worsens over time; so, many people who have heart valve disease don't have any symptoms until they're middle-aged or older.

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Unusual fatigue (tiredness)
  • Shortness of breath, especially when you exert yourself or when you're lying down
  • Swelling in your ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, and veins in the neck
  • Chest pain that may happen only when you exert yourself
  • Fluttering, racing, or irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness or fainting.

Do I need my heart valves repaired or replaced?
Your doctor may recommend repairing or replacing your heart valve(s), which can prevent lasting damage to your heart and sudden death.

Having heart valve repair or replacement depends on many factors, including:

  • The severity of your valve disease.
  • Your age and general health.
  • Whether you need heart surgery for other conditions, such as bypass surgery to treat coronary heart disease. Bypass surgery and valve surgery can be done at the same time.

When possible, heart valve repair is preferred over heart valve replacement. Valve repair preserves the strength and function of the heart muscle. However, heart valve repair surgery is harder to do than valve replacement. Also, not all valves can be repaired. Mitral valves often can be repaired. Aortic and pulmonary valves often have to be replaced.

Where can I receive heart valve repair/replacement surgery?
IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital offers highly skilled cardiovascular/cardiothoracic surgeons to treat local hearts with world-class care.

What should I expect after surgery?
Recovery from heart valve surgery usually involves a few days in a cardiac intensive care unit (CIC) of the hospital. Full recovery from heart valve surgery can take several months. Recovery includes healing of the surgical incision, gradually building physical endurance and exercising.

IU Health Ball Memorial offers a three phase cardiac rehabilitation program; which starts in the hospital (Phase I), to immediately post-discharge (Phase II), to a self-pay maintenance program (Phase III) for patients who have completed the acute phases or have a direct referral to the maintenance phase. Patients learn exercise programs, meet with dieticians, pharmacists, counselors, on an individual basis and attend educational classes covering many other important topics that affect their recovery.

If you think you may have heart issues, talk to your physician about referring you to the IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital.

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