leaking heart valves

Leaking Heart Valves – Life Expectancy, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What is The Purpose of Heart Valves?

The heart is made up of 4 chambers – right and left atria and ventricles. These chambers are guarded by flap-like openings called valves. The 4 valves of the heart are:

  1. Pulmonary valve present between lungs and right ventricle. Prevents flow of blood from lungs into right ventricle
  2. Tricuspid valve allows flow of blood from right atrium to right ventricle
  3. Mitral valve allows flow of blood from left atrium to left ventricle
  4. Aortic valve between aorta and left ventricle. Prevents flow of blood from aorta to left ventricle.

As the cardiac muscles contract and relax to pump blood, the valves open and close completely; they act like gates which regulate flow of blood into and outside the heart chambers and prevents backflow of blood.

What Causes Leaking Heart Valves?

The condition of leaky heart valves is called “valvular insufficiency” or “valvular regurgitation”. In case of a leaky heart valve, the heart valve does not close completely after blood has passed through. This condition can affect one or more heart valves.

Leaking Heart Valves can be of The Following Types:

  1. Congenital Valve Disease – it is an abnormality which develops before birth. It can be due to irregular size or malformed leaflets. Congenital leaky valves can be of two types:
    • Bicuspid aortic valve disease this condition affects the aortic valve.
      This condition affects nearly 2% of the entire population.
    • Mitral valve prolapse (MVP) this condition occurs due to abnormal growth of connective tissues of the mitral valve. MVP causes tissues of leaflets to become stretchy causing the valve to leak.
      MVP is seen in about 1-2% of population. MVP is frequently seen among athletes.
  2. Acquired Valve Disease – these are conditions which affect previously normal valves commonly as a result of the following:
    • Infective endocarditisbacterial infection of the heart valves and its lining (endocardium). It can cause scarring, growths or holes in the heart  valves causing them to leak.
    • Rheumatic heart disease occurs as a result of untreated streptococcal infection.
    • Structural changes such as:
      • Degeneration – related to advancing age.
      • Calcification – seen in people over 6 years of age. Advancing age, high blood pressure and being overweight are some risk factors.
      • Stretching or tearing of valve muscles – it commonly affects the mitral valve and can occur due to heart attack, infection of the valves or injury.
      • Dilatation – this does not allow the valves to shut properly. It occurs when the heart muscle is damaged as a result of syphilis, congestive heart failure, heart attack and high blood pressure. Dilatation of heart valves is commonly seen in a genetic condition called Marfan’s syndrome.

A frequent question asked by patients diagnosed with valvular insufficiency/ regurgitation is regarding life expectancy with leaking heart valves.

[ReadHeart Failure Causes]

What are The Symptoms of Leaking Heart Valves?

Leaking of heart valves means that the heart is not able to pump out enough blood to reach the peripheral organs and tissues. In this situation, the heart tends to beat faster in order to pump out more blood rapidly.
Therefore, symptoms of leaky heart valves can be seen as the following:

  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort or chest pain in severe conditions
  • Swelling (edema) over ankles or feet
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Weakness

Signs and symptoms may appear rapidly if the cause for valvular insufficiency is of a sudden onset; whereas in some patients the signs and symptoms may develop gradually and are often unnoticeable.

[Read – Tests Included in Heart Checkup]

Treatment for Leaky Heart Valves

You doctor may prescribe medications to maintain adequate pumping action of the heart.
Since major valvular leakage is a mechanical problem, it is eventually required to be replaced by surgery. Valvular surgeries may be of the following types:

➢ Valve repair surgery – a damaged valve is fixed without use of prosthetic.
➢ Valve replacement surgery – this is performed when valve repair is not possible. The damaged valve is replaced by a prosthetic or artificial one.
➢ Minimally invasive heart valve surgery

Patients are required to be on blood-thinning agents even after surgery. This helps to prevent formation of blood clots on the repaired/ replaced heart valve post-surgery.
The patients need to be serially tested for PT/INR (Prothrombin Time/ International Normalized Ratio) once put on medications to assess and adjust dosages if required.
Whether you are diagnosed with a valve condition or not, there are certain measures which you can take to manage and also avoid development of valvular/ cardiac conditions in future:

  • Curb smoking and alcohol intake
  • Maintain an optimal weight and BMI
  • Eat a well balanced diet
  • Those at high risk should consume a salt-restricted and fat-free diet.
  • Follow a suitable exercise program. High-intensity exercises are to be avoided for patients with leaky valve

Leaking Heart Valves Life Expectancy

  • Although a leaky heart valve can have fatal effects, it is usually diagnosed accidentally as it does not have specific signs and symptoms.
  • Nearly every person has a small amount of valvular regurgitation which can be effectively managed with the help of suitable diet and exercise
  • In some patients, a leaky heart valve remains in the same condition lifelong, not causing any trouble; while in some it may develop rapidly leading to heart failure.

Therefore, it can be said that life expectancy with leaking heart valves is quite relative and can vary from person to person.
If you are diagnosed with a leaky valve, irrespective of how minor the leak is, it is advisable to keep a regular follow-up with your doctor to be updated about your leaky valve.

Leaking Heart Valves Side Effects

Some leaky valves can be treated with medications during the early stages if surgery is to be avoided. Yet, medications do not provide any kind of immunity from further mechanical damage to the valves.

Surgery becomes inevitable as and when the complaints become severe enough to disrupt one’s normal daily routine and affect the quality of life. Untreated valvular insufficiency can be fatal and in such advanced cases, surgery remains as the only treatment option.

Some Side Effects of Leaking Heart Valves are

  • Heart failure is the commonest side effect of leaking heart valves.
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heart rate)
  • Generalized edema (accumulation of fluid)
  • Tendency to form blood clots due to impaired pumping of blood