Understanding how heart disease affects you and the people you love begins with knowing the signs and symptoms of the illnesses that can strike at any moment. Once you can recognize the warning signs, getting a diagnosis from a qualified professional can lead to successful (and in many cases non-invasive) treatment options.
The Power of Being Informed
If received a diagnosis of a defect or damage to any of the valves of your heart, you are well aware of how concerning (if not downright frightening) that can be. However, arming yourself with correct information and knowing the best steps to take can prove highly beneficial in moving forward for your long term health.
Remember to make a list of questions and concerns to every appointment with your doctor. Don’t assume that they will tell you everything you need or want to know. Being proactive will keep you well-informed and give you clarity of mind during the days of healing that are to come.
Signs and Symptoms of Valvular Heart Disease
Some people may go their whole lives without any symptoms to alert them to the fact that they have damaged their heart valves. No signs or symptoms is not a guarantee that this problem does not exist. Many millions of people experience very real signs and symptoms that they should not ignore. These can include:
- Heart Murmur: When your doctor discovers a heartbeat that is out of the normal rhythm of your heart, this is called a murmur. Heart murmurs don’t always mean there is a more serious, problem (as is explained by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute). However, they can be an indicator of something more serious, and the discovery of murmurs will likely cause your doctor to investigate further.
- Heart Failure: If you are experiencing extreme fatigue, swelling of the abdomen, neck veins and extremities, your doctor may discover that you have a condition called heart failure. This condition is chronic and is characterized by your heart not pumping properly.
- Unusual Discomforts: Valvular heart disease can cause pain in your chest or a fluttering or racing feeling in your heart. If you experience symptoms like this, do not brush them off. Talk to your doctor and let them determine whether it is nothing to be concerned about or if you have an underlying illness.
- Other: Sometimes heart disease can cause faintness or dizzy spells. Again, take any signs and symptoms out of the ordinary seriously and seek medical help as quickly as possible.
Treatments for heart disease can range from minimal to highly invasive depending on the degree of the damage to your heart valves. Asking your doctor questions (and listening to their advice) can often make the difference in determining the success of the treatment you receive.
- Wait and See
For those with very mild symptoms, doctors may choose just to wait and see what happens. They may suggest lifestyle changes (details to follow) but may feel that there is no reason to sound the alarm at such an early stage of the illness.
- Lifestyle Changes
Most people who receive a diagnosis of heart disease of any kind will find themselves advised to make necessary and often radical lifestyle changes.
Increasing the amount of daily exercise appropriate to their body’s limitations (but with enough consistency to impact their overall health) can benefit you or your loved one by helping build muscle, lose weight, and strengthen your cardiovascular system.
Additionally, patients may be required to change their food intake. Meeting with a nutritionist can help you make better choices that lead to a healthy heart and blood that flows without constriction.
While it may seem overwhelming to make such significant changes seemingly overnight, you may find your motivation by remembering that you have the power to impact your treatment for the better or worse.
- Surgical Procedures
There are a variety of surgical procedures available for those with valvular heart disease. Doctors may choose a balloon dilatation to widen a narrowed valve.
The doctor may choose a procedure that is minimally invasive (such as TAVI, which aims to repair without replacing the damaged valve.) Other patients may require a more ‘open chest’ approach.
Whatever direction your treatment takes, be sure to ask your doctor questions that help you stay focused on the successful healing of your heart.