So, before we get into how to treat a leaky heart valve, let's talk a little bit about what heart valves are and what their jobs are in the heart. Heart valve is a door in the heart that is supposed to open widely and then close shut tightly. It's supposed to allow blood to flow in one direction smoothly and not allow any leakiness or back flow in the heart.
The signs and symptoms can be shortness of breath, trouble exerting yourself, or edema, or swelling of the lower extremities. Leaky heart valves are not uncommon. Your doctor will often first discover them after you describe some of the symptoms and he or she listens to your heart and hears what we call a murmur or abnormal heart sound. The way we diagnose leaky heart valves are through simple imaging tests, such as cardiac ultrasound. We can see which valve is effected, and how severe the leakiness is.The leakiness can be either mild, moderate or severe.
Oftentimes, no treatment is required for mild or moderate leaky heart valves. Doctors will usually follow them with periodic or yearly screening tests, such as cardiac ultrasound. The good news is that often leaky heart valves are mild and do not need treatment. The bad news is that when the leakiness does become severe and you have symptoms from that leaky heart valve, or the heart is showing signs of being effected by the heart valve, such as dilating or getting bigger, we often need to fix it. And the fix is often through cardiac surgery, or what we call open heart surgery to either repair or replace the heart valve.
Open heart surgery may sound scary, but the good news is that fortunately people do quite well. They often can go on to lead full and productive lives after heart valve surgery. And that's how we treat leaky heart valves.