Common causes of valvular heart disease everyone needs to know

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Valvular heart disease affects the valves of the heart, which are responsible for controlling blood flow in and out of the heart’s chambers.

When these valves don’t work correctly, it can lead to serious health problems.

Here’s an easy-to-understand look at the common causes of valvular heart disease, supported by research evidence.

One of the leading causes of valvular heart disease is aging. As people get older, their heart valves can become thicker and less flexible, making it harder for the valves to open and close properly. This condition, known as aortic stenosis, is common among the elderly.

Research shows that the buildup of calcium deposits on the valve leaflets, which occurs over many years, contributes to this stiffness and narrowing of the valve.

Rheumatic fever is another significant cause, especially in developing countries. Rheumatic fever is a complication of untreated strep throat and can cause inflammation in the heart, leading to permanent damage to the heart valves.

This damage often results in rheumatic heart disease, where the valves become scarred and narrowed or leak. Although less common in developed countries due to better access to antibiotics, it remains a major cause of valvular heart disease in many parts of the world.

Congenital valve defects, meaning valve abnormalities present at birth, are also a notable cause. Some people are born with valves that are the wrong size, have malformed leaflets, or have the wrong number of leaflets.

These defects can interfere with normal blood flow through the heart and lead to issues like bicuspid aortic valve disease, where the aortic valve has only two leaflets instead of the usual three.

Research indicates that congenital valve defects are a significant cause of valvular heart disease in younger populations.

Infections can also lead to valvular heart disease. Infective endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart, usually involving the heart valves. Bacteria entering the bloodstream, often from the mouth, skin, or elsewhere, can lodge on the valves and cause infection.

This infection can damage the valve leaflets, leading to conditions like valve regurgitation, where the valve doesn’t close properly, causing blood to flow backward. Studies show that people with damaged or artificial valves are at higher risk of developing endocarditis.

Heart attacks and other forms of heart disease can damage the heart valves as well. A heart attack can affect the function of the papillary muscles or the chordae tendineae, which help the valves open and close.

When these structures are damaged, it can lead to valve regurgitation. Additionally, heart disease can cause changes in the heart’s structure and function, leading to conditions such as mitral valve prolapse, where the valve leaflets bulge back into the left atrium.

Autoimmune diseases, like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can also contribute to valvular heart disease. These diseases can cause inflammation in various parts of the body, including the heart valves.

This inflammation can lead to scarring and thickening of the valves, resulting in conditions like mitral valve stenosis. Research indicates that managing autoimmune diseases effectively can reduce the risk of developing valvular heart problems.

Certain lifestyle factors and medical conditions can increase the risk of valvular heart disease. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes are all linked to an increased risk of developing valve problems.

These conditions can cause changes in the heart and blood vessels that put extra strain on the heart valves. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a balanced diet, and managing chronic conditions can help reduce this risk.

In conclusion, valvular heart disease can result from aging, rheumatic fever, congenital defects, infections, heart attacks, autoimmune diseases, and certain lifestyle factors. Understanding these causes can help in preventing and managing the disease.

Regular check-ups, a healthy lifestyle, and prompt treatment of infections and other medical conditions are key steps in protecting heart valve health.

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