When Does a Leaking Heart Valve Mean Heart Valve Surgery?

A leaking heart valve fortunately, does not always mean valve surgery. And, heart valve surgery, if it becomes necessary, does not always have to mean that you’ll need an open-heart surgery.

In fact, most people with a leaking valve disorder, are totally unaware of their valvular disease. Their mildly leaking valve condition goes undetected because it just never progresses to the point of needing treatment.

Symptoms which might indicate that your leaking heart valve also called valve regurgitation is worsening to the point of needing some form of treatment are: unexplained fatigue, shortness-of-breath especially when you exert yourself, heart palpitations, an awareness of your heart beat, fluttery or irregular heart beat, chest pain also referred to as angina, dizziness or fainting, and swollen ankles or feet.

The heart valves are made to move your blood through your heart in one direction. When there is valve leakage, the valve leaflets fail to close properly, and some of the blood is regurgitated backwards in the wrong direction.

In severe heart valve leakage or regurgitation, the heart has to work much harder to re-pump the blood back through your heart and into your body. This “over-work” causes enlargement of the heart.

If you begin to notice that your normal everyday activities are tiring you out, and you’re experiencing one or more of the symptoms we’ve already mentioned, it may be time for you to visit your Doctor or cardiologist.

For example, do you notice that walking up your drive to the mail box is exhausting, or maybe just bending over to take clothes from the dryer causes chest pain, or do you experience breathlessness just from being outdoors the heat? These could all be signs of heart valve disease.

Your GP can listen to your heart with a stethoscope. Often, just listening to your heart can tell your Doctor if you have a heart murmur. Depending upon the severity of the murmur he or she hears, your GP may refer you to a cardiologist.

The cardiologist’s diagnosis will probably include one or more of the following tests:

– an electrocardiogram (ECG), a test that measures the electrical activity of your heart to see how well it is working
– an echocardiogram, an ultrasound scan that produces a picture of the inside of your heart
– a chest X-ray
– a heart cath, a small tube (catheter) is threaded up to your heart through an artery – usually in your groin. A dye that shows up on X-rays is injected into your blood stream and X-rays are taken to produce an image of the blood flowing through your heart
– a cardiac CT scan that uses X-rays to make a three-dimensional image of your heart.

If these tests show that your have a severely leaking heart valve, then, you will probably require some form of heart surgery. When possible, heart valve repair surgery is always preferable to valve replacement surgery because your own heart tissue is being used to make the repair; however, if you need a valve replacement, the artificial and pig valves are overwhelmingly successful.

As of this writing, the only approved option for treating severely leaking heart valves is open-heart surgery with heart-lung bypass. But, if your problem is a leaking mitral valve, you just might be in luck, some 30 hospitals across North America are now participating in an FDA-approved clinical study of an experimental device for repairing a leaking mitral valve, which does NOT require open-heart surgery.

This is truly exciting news! Amazingly, this minimally invasive procedure can repair a leaking mitral heart valve while the heart is still beating. In this FDA-approved clinical study, an experimental device and procedure use a catheter inserted into a vein in the groin.

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