Home Am I at Risk? Other Heart Disease - Valve Disease

Other Heart Disease - Valve Disease

Heart Valve Disease

What is it?

The four heart valves lie at the exit of each of the four main chambers of the heart, ensuring that blood only flows in one direction and there is no backward leakage (See The Heart & Circulation). Heart valve disease occurs when the valves are damaged and can no longer function properly. The two main types of valve disease are valvular stenosis, when the valve opening narrows and forces the heart to work very hard to pump blood out; and valvular insufficiency (or regurgitation), when the valve does not close tightly, allowing blood to flow in the wrong direction.

Valve disease has many possible causes, including congenital defects, bacterial infections and inflammation, and coronary artery disease or heart attack. Heart valve disease affects 1% to 2% of adults, and is equally common in women and men.1

The most common symptoms of valve disease are shortness of breath, weakness or dizziness, chest discomfort, palpitations, and fluid buildup ( edema) in your legs, feet, or stomach.

How is it related to stroke?

Although heart valve disease can have many different causes, atherosclerosis and the associated changes in the makeup of the heart and blood vessels are one common cause that ties the disease to stroke. The same risk factors that cause coronary artery disease and stroke can also result in valve disease. Just like coronary arteries, heart valves can build up plaque and become narrowed, resulting in valvular stenosis, or stiff and inflexible, causing valvular insufficiency. Atherosclerosis of the heart valves increases the chances of a clot forming, which can travel to the brain and cause a stroke or TIA. If it is not managed properly, valve disease forces the heart muscle to work harder to compensate, which can eventually result in heart failure, another condition that increases your risk of stroke.

Can heart valve disease treatments contribute to stroke?

One valve disease treatment is also a unique contributor to stroke risk. People with severe valve disease sometimes require valve replacement with a prosthetic valve. As a foreign object in the bloodstream, prosthetic valves have a tendency to cause clots. Heart valve replacements account for 20% of all heart procedures in the US.19

How does it affect my stroke risk?

Each year more than 50,000 US residents with valve disease have a first stroke, and valve disease is also an important risk factor for stroke recurrence.20

In a community-based study of 729 residents of Olmsted County, Minnesota, valve disease increased the risk of stroke by 3.2 times, and more than doubled the risk of dying.21 Nearly 5% of patients suffered a stroke or TIA within a year of being diagnosed with valve disease; within 7 years 23% had suffered one.

What can I do to prevent stroke?

As with most other cardiac conditions, the first step in preventing stroke is to manage your heart valve disease, including making the lifestyle and medication changes as prescribed by your doctor. As with coronary artery disease, valve disease that is caused by atherosclerosis can be slowed down and even reversed if you begin to address the risk factors that are contributing to the disease’s development. Preventing your valve disease from becoming worse will also reduce your chances of developing heart failure and reduce your risk of stroke in the long run.

People who have replacement valves should be sure to follow their anticoagulation regimen, usually warfarin (Coumadin). Adding daily baby aspirin to Coumadin decreases the risk of clots and death due to cardiovascular disease.22

Next: Atrial Fibrillation

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