Aging & Health A to Z
Heart Valve Problems
Common Cardiac Tests
Care & Treatment
For mild heart valve symptoms, your healthcare professional may prescribe certain drugs. These include:
- Diuretics (water pills) to help reduce swelling and fluid buildup.
- Blood thinners (anticoagulants) to prevent blood clots from forming around your heart valve.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, to lower your blood pressure and make it easier for your heart to pump blood.
If you are being treated for mild heart valve symptoms, you’ll need frequent check-ups and periodic echocardiograms to be sure your condition is not getting worse.
Your healthcare professional may recommend one of several procedures, including less-invasive surgeries, to treat your heart valve problem. These include:
In this procedure, used when a heart valve is too narrow (stenosis), the cardiologist threads a thin tube (catheter) with a small deflated balloon at its tip through a blood vessel in the groin and up to the opening of the narrowed heart valve. Then, he or she inflates the balloon, which stretches the valve open so blood can flow through it. When the valve widens, the catheter is removed.
The valve closes again in about 6 months in about half of the people who undergo this procedure, and in about three quarters of the people it closes within one year. However, this procedure may be helpful if you are initially too ill for heart surgery and need to build up your stamina so you can have valve surgery later.
Heart Valve Surgery
Heart valve surgery is a type of open-heart surgery, during which you will be placed on a heart-lung machine that continues to circulate blood and oxygen through your body during the surgery.
The type of valve surgery you will need depends a variety of factors including your age, your general health and lifestyle, the condition of your heart, and how many new valves you need. Your healthcare professional and surgeon will help you decide what type of surgery is best for you.
Some valve problems can be surgically repaired without having to replace the entire valve. Valve repair might involve sewing a ring around the valve opening to tighten it, or using other methods to widen or strengthen the valve so it opens and closes properly.
If a valve can’t be repaired, it must be replaced with either an artificial valve or one made of human or animal tissue. An artificial valve lasts much longer than one from human or animal tissue but requires you to take blood thinners for the rest of your life to prevent clots from forming around the new valve.
Minimally invasive heart valve surgery techniques require smaller incisions but are not widely available. These surgeries may result in a quicker recovery period, less chance of infection, less blood loss, and less pain after surgery. Your heart specialist can recommend the best type of surgery for your particular condition.
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012