Diagnosis and treatment of heart valve problems
Sometimes a problem with a heart valve is picked up when your doctor, or specialist nurse, listens to your heart through a stethoscope. This can be as part of a routine examination or because you have symptoms such as tiredness, shortness of breath or swelling of the ankles. If there is damage to a valve then he / she may hear a 'murmur'. This noise is extra to the normal sounds of a heart beat and can be caused by a damaged valve.
Your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist (specially trained heart doctor) for more tests to assess any damage to the valve(s) as well as the general condition of your heart and coronary arteries. These tests can include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Chest x–ray
- Echocardiogram (known as 'echo')
What treatments are available?
Once a diagnosis of a heart valve problem has been made your doctor will decide what treatment, if any, is best for you. Any underlying problems (e.g. coronary heart disease and high blood pressure) will also need to be treated.
- Monitoring: if the valves are not badly affected and you do not have any symptoms then you may not need any treatment. You will, instead, need regular check ups to see how well the heart is working.
- Medical treatment: there are various drugs which your doctor may prescribe to ease the workload of the heart and relieve symptoms. These may include:
- ACE inhibitors (Angiotensin Converting Enzyme inhibitors)
- Beta blockers
- Diuretics ('water' tablets)
- Surgical treatment: in the longer term your doctor may recommend heart valve surgery to stretch, repair or replace the damaged valve.