The heart is the pump responsible for circulating blood and oxygen throughout the body. It is made up of two atriums, a right and left, which is above two ventricles, also a right and left. Blood enter the atrium and passes to the ventricle then exits the heart. Each time the blood leaves or enters a section, it has to pass through a valve. There are four valves: the Pulmonic Valve, Tricuspid Valve, Aortic Valve and Mitral Valve. Valves are responsible for making sure that blood flows only one way.
How Blood Circulates
Oxygen-deprived blood enters the right atrium passes through the Tricuspid Valve into the right ventricle. Then the blood leaves the heart through the Pulmonary valve on its way to the lungs. The oxygen-rich blood then returns to the heart into the left atrium. It then passes through the mitral valve into the left ventricle. Finally, it leaves the heart through the Aortic Valve and circulates through the body.
The Problems with a Broken Heart
A leaky heart valve happens when the valve doesn’t close properly or tightly enough. This can happen when the supportive structures of the valve become loose or turn or the valve becomes stretched or thinned. Blood flows backwards, into the lungs and can cause shortness of breath. This shortness is associated with exercise at first and then at rest as time progresses. The heart will grow weaker and eventually lead to congestive heart failure.
Possible Causes of a Leaky Heart
The most common cause of leaky mitral valve is called Degenerative Mitral Valve Disease or Floppy Valve Syndrome. This is caused by weakness or redundancy of the leaflets that form the valves and their supporting structures. Supporting structures consist of Chordae Tendineae, which are strings of strong fibrous tissue which connect the valve flaps to the muscle bundles on the chamber walls in the Mitral and Tricuspid Valves. Other causes include infection, which is called endocarditis, of the mitral valve, congenital abnormalities and a weakened or dilated heart muscle. Rheumatic fever used to be a cause of heart valve disease.
Treatment of Leaky Heart
Surgery is usually required where one or more valves are repaired or replaced. Whether the surgeon repairs or replaces the valve is decided only after the patient is in the surgery and the existing valve can be properly evaluated. A replacement of the mitral valve means that a prosthetic valve replaces the natural one.
There are two types of valves available for replacement, a mechanical or synthetic valve, which requires the patient to take blood thinning medications for the rest of their life. Biological valves are taken from animals such as pigs or cows or human donors. They usually don’t last as long as mechanical valves, but don’t require anticoagulant medications.
Your heart cannot beat during the surgery. You will be hooked up to a heart-lung machine which will make sure that the oxygen gets to your blood and the blood circulates through your body.
The problem with a leaking heart valve arises because heart disease usually develops slowly over the course of decades and may only show with a murmur. By the time more serious symptoms appear, the heart disease is well advanced. With the advances in medicine, a leaking heart valve can be treated if caught on time.