A Leaking Heart Valve May Or May Not Be Serious

A leaking heart valve can often have little if any effect on one's quality of life. On the other hand, it can be a life-threatening situation. As we all know, the heart is a very strong muscle that acts as a pump. It pumps blood in one direction throughout body. With each heartbeat, the heart contracts, pushing blood into the arteries and to all areas of the body. It does not pump the blood in a continuous motion, but rather in a pulsing motion. If the heart were to pump blood in a continuous motion there would be little   need for heart valves. The blood would continuously flow from the heart out to the arteries, veins, and body organs.

Because the heart pumps in a pulsing fashion, valves need to be present to prevent the blood flow from reversing direction when the pumping action is absent. Without valves, the blood would flow a little ways, then simply flow back.

Just A Little Flap – But An Important Little Flap

Imagine pumping water through a pipe up a hill and into a tank. If the pump shut down and there was no valve located in the pipeline, the water would simply flow back down the hill to the pump. To keep that from happening, a simple one-way valve is needed. A heart valve is such a simple one way valve. When viewed as an ultrasound image, it looks just like a little flap that opens and closes. That's really all it takes to keep the blood from flowing backwards. A little flap.

If a valve closes imperfectly, it will leak. That's true of a heart valve as well. A valve can also fail to open completely. In that case, the pump has to work harder to maintain flow. A heart valve that doesn't fully open causes the heart to work harder than it should. If the opening is too narrow, the heart may become over-exerted and eventually fail. A heart valve that opens fully but does not close perfectly is usually not quite as severe of a problem. If the leak is small the heart's activity may not be significantly impacted. If the leak becomes too large however, the heart has to work harder to maintain adequate blood flow, and problems could eventually occur.

The heart has several chambers and several valves, the mitral valve, the aortic valve, the pulmonic valve, and the tricuspid valve. The significance of a leaking heart valve depends not only on the amount of leakage, but to some extent upon which of the valves is affected. The medical term for valve leakage is blood regurgitation. If the pulmonic valve is the culprit for example, the condition will be diagnosed as one of pulmonary regurgitation.

Congenital Or Acquired

A leaking heart valve condition, usually referred to as heart valve disease, can be congenital or acquired. Congenital heart valve disease most often affects the aortic or pulmonic valve, where the valve has either not fully developed or has developed abnormally. Acquired heart valve disease can be attributed to a number of factors, the most common one being rheumatic fever, which can contribute to the restructuring of a valve's geometry. Bacterial infections can also cause leaking if the infection causes growths or holes in a valve. High blood pressure can be another cause of heart valve damage or leakage. Sometimes the cause cannot be determined. People can acquire heart valve disease without knowing it, and may live a full life without the condition ever being discovered or causing a problem.

The symptoms of heart valve disease are typical of heart disease or cardiovascular disease. Since the heart is working harder than necessary, the symptoms may be shortness of breath, constant fatigue, dizziness, or an irregular heartbeat. One might think that the severity of the symptoms directly correlate to the amount of leakage, but this is not always the case. Symptoms can be quite noticeable, yet the leakage may turn out be of little significance. On the other hand, leakage can be quite severe, without any noticeable symptoms being experienced.

A leaky valve is usually not difficult for a doctor to detect, as the blood flowing through a leaky valve creates a swishing sound. A more extensive examination, such as an ECG test or an ultrasound may be needed to more fully determine the severity of the leakage, or to monitor its behavior over time.

Treatment And Cure

A leaking heart valve can often be treated by medication. Medication alone rarely cures the problem, but treats the symptoms while at the same time keeping the valve's condition from further deterioration. A severely leaking valve can usually be surgically repaired. In certain instances minimally invasive heart valve surgery is possible. If one has heart valve problems, or even if the problem has been cured by surgery, it's important to follow a healthy life style to keep heart disease issues at bay. A heart patient often needs to take medication for the rest of his or her life, follow a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and in general follow a healthy lifestyle.