Key causes of heart valve disease you need to know

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Heart valve disease occurs when one or more of the valves in the heart doesn’t work properly. The heart has four valves: the aortic, mitral, pulmonary, and tricuspid valves.

These valves have tissue flaps that open and close with each heartbeat, ensuring blood flows in the right direction through the heart’s chambers and to the rest of the body.

When valves don’t open or close properly, it disrupts blood flow and can lead to various complications.

Understanding the common causes of heart valve disease can help in early diagnosis and treatment.

One prevalent cause of heart valve disease is age-related changes. As we age, our heart valves may stiffen and thicken, a condition often referred to as calcification.

This is particularly true for the aortic valve, which controls blood flow from the heart into the aorta and then to the rest of the body.

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicates that aortic valve calcification is a significant cause of aortic valve stenosis (narrowing of the valve) in the elderly.

This calcification process can impede the valve’s ability to open and close properly, leading to reduced blood flow.

Another significant cause is rheumatic fever, which follows untreated or under-treated strep throat infections. Rheumatic fever can cause rheumatic heart disease, which may damage the heart valves.

This is more common in developing countries where access to healthcare might be limited. The inflammation caused by rheumatic fever can lead to scarring of the heart valves, making them stiff and thick. This can affect their function many years after the initial episode of rheumatic fever.

Congenital heart valve defects are also a major cause. Some individuals are born with valves that are malformed. These congenital defects can involve valves that are the wrong size, have malformed leaflets, or have leaflets that are not properly attached.

According to the American Heart Association, congenital valve problems are a leading reason for surgeries and interventions in children and adults born with these defects.

Infections can also lead to valve disease. Infective endocarditis, for example, occurs when bacteria or other microorganisms spread through the bloodstream and attach to damaged areas of the heart’s valves or tissue.

This infection can destroy or severely damage the heart valves, leading to acute valve dysfunction. Research in the Journal of Medical Microbiology highlights that prompt antibiotic treatment is crucial for managing infective endocarditis and minimizing its impact on heart valves.

Degenerative valve disease is another cause, particularly for the mitral valve. This involves the progressive deterioration of the valve, often due to mitral valve prolapse, where the flaps of the mitral valve bulge back into the left atrium as the heart contracts.

This can cause the valves to leak over time. Lifestyle factors and genetics can influence the progression of degenerative valve diseases.

Preventive measures and early detection are vital for managing heart valve disease effectively. Regular medical check-ups can help detect heart murmurs and other signs of valve issues early on.

For those at risk, including the elderly and those with a history of heart conditions, rheumatic fever, or congenital heart defects, it’s particularly important to monitor heart health closely.

In summary, heart valve disease has various causes, from age-related degeneration and congenital defects to infections like rheumatic fever and endocarditis.

Understanding these can aid in early detection and treatment, improving the quality of life for those affected.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, managing chronic conditions, and adhering to treatment recommendations are crucial steps in preventing or managing heart valve disease.

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