The majority of those who suffer from heart valve disease are born with it. It is mostly a congenital condition for people born with a narrow heart valve, leaky valves, valve flaps that are the wrong size or are to stiff. Many people are diagnosed with valvular heart disease when they are born. During their many baby well checks their pediatrician hears the tell-tell murmur that denotes a problem with the heart. For others they may not become aware of their condition until later during their life. There are also people who may never know they have this disease until it is to late when the only symptom is a sudden fatal heart attack.
While there are many people who are born with heart valve disease there are those who get this form of cardiovascular disease from some other disease or condition such as infective endocarditis, rheumatic heart disease, or even a heart attack. Children who are more susceptible to strep throat run a higher risk of rheumatic fever which can cause rheumatic heart disease and damage to the heart valves as they become adults.
Bacterial infections and endocarditis of the heart can also cause valve damage. These infections can be a result of medical procedures such as a surgery or dental work where bacteria are able to enter the body. The hearts valve leaflets are scarred by such an infection which can lead to heart valve regurgitation, which is a backflow of blood back through the valve.
Heart valve disease can be identified and diagnosed with the following tests:
1. Echocardiogram – This test is used routinely to diagnose valvular disease. Thickened valve leaflets, vegetations or growths on valve leaflets, myocardial function, and chamber size can be determined, and pressure gradients across valves and pulmonary artery pressures can be estimated. Either transthoracic or transesophageal echocardiography may be used.
2. Chest X-ray – This can identify cardiac hypertrophy, chamber and great vessel enlargement, and dilation of the pulmonary vasculature. Calcification of the valve leaflets and annular openings may also be visible.
3. Electrocardiography – Can demonstrate atrial and ventricular hypertrophy, conduction defects, and dysrhythmias associated with valvular disease.
4. Cardiac catheterization – Is used to assess contractility and to determine the pressure gradients across the heart valves, in the heart chambers, and in the pulmonary system.
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