Heart valve defect

Heart valve function is impaired when the valves stiffen or thicken, don’t open properly (stenosis) or don't close properly (insufficiency).

Overview

Heart valve function is impaired when the valves stiffen or thicken, don’t open properly (stenosis) or don't close properly (insufficiency). Causes include, for example, wear and tear or a past infection. The symptoms are very diverse. Almost unnoticeable to begin with, these can lead to shortness of breath and fainting fits. Depending on the cause, a healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, etc.) can help prevent this disorder.

Symptoms

General

  • Each of the four heart valves can be too narrow (stenosis) or unable to close (insufficiency)
  • Most often affected: mitral and aortic valves
  • Different effects on the flow of blood
  • Symptoms aren’t uniform
  • Heart muscle has to constantly work harder (to compensate for the valve defects)
  • Heart muscle grows tired and cardiac output decreases (decompensated valve defects)

Possible symptoms

  • Very noticeable heartbeat (which can sometimes be felt in the head)
  • Blood pressure is too high (hypertension) or too low (hypotension)
  • Arrhythmia (heartbeat is too fast or irregular, atrial fibrillation)
  • Heart pain (angina pectoris) and chest tightness
  • Swelling (oedema) of legs
  • Shortness of breath and tiring quickly
  • Dizziness, fainting fits (syncope)
  • Pale, reddish or bluish discolouration of facial skin and lips

Causes and treatment

Causes

  • Wear and tear (degenerative)
  • Congenital
  • Damage after a heart attack
  • Cardiac enlargement
    • E.g. due to long-standing cardiac insufficiency
  • After an infection

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • Listening to heartbeat and heart murmurs
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • X-ray of chest cavity (chest x-ray)
  • Heart ultrasound (echocardiogram)
  • Before a valve operation
    • Heart catheter (to measure the pressure in the heart ventricles and large blood vessels)
    • Coronary angiography (examination of the coronary arteries)
Possible therapies
  • Treatment of heart failure (with medication)
  • Regular monitoring by a specialist (cardiologist)
  • If decline in ability to perform and quality of life
  • Surgery is essential
  • Current preference for minimally invasive procedures (cardiac catheter or small incisions between the ribs)
  • Examples: balloon dilation of a narrowed valve, insertion of an artificial heart valve

What can I do myself?

  • Healthy diet (e.g. Mediterranean diet)
  • Regular exercise
  • Reduce overweight
  • Stop smoking
  • For increasing heart failure
    • Elevate torso, i.e. half-sitting position (relieves shortness of breath during the night)
    • Elevate the legs (helps to reduce swelling for oedema)

When to see a doctor?

Further information

Swiss Heart Foundation (Schweizerische Herzstiftung)
www.swissheart.ch

Synonyms

heart valve defect, aortic insufficiency and mitral insufficiency, aortic stenosis and mitral stenosis, mitral insufficiency, mitral stenosis, heart valve disorders, heart valve diseases

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CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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