What is heart valve disease?
Heart valve disease can be diagnosed before or at birth (congenital) or later in life. There are three main types of valve problems:
- Regurgitation – valve does not close properly
- Stenosis – valve does not open properly
- Atresia – valve lacks opening for the passing of blood
Are there any known causes?
The known causes of heart valve disease include rheumatic fever, infections, and age-related factors. However, many valve problems in children are congenital (from birth) so their cause is not fully known. Additionally, heart valve disease in an infant can be accompanied by other heart defects.
What are common symptoms?
A doctor can usually detect heart valve disease by using a stethoscope and listening to the patient’s heart. A heart murmur does not necessarily mean the patient has heart valve disease but, it is a common finding. Other symptoms include swelling of hands or feet, general fatigue, and increased work of breathing.
What kind of testing and diagnostic tools are used to determine diagnosis or disease stage?
A physical exam by your primary care physician followed by an EKG, echocardiogram, and chest X-Ray will detect heart valve disease. Further testing is sometimes needed and may include cardiac catheterization or a Cardiac MRI.
What are the possible treatment options? How will we determine which treatment option is best for our child?
In children, surgery is usually needed to correct severe heart valve problems. Your child’s cardiologist, in collaboration with the cardiac surgeon will determine which treatment option is best for your child. As with many heart problems, a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, and regular exercise, are all important in preventing heart valve disease later in life.
What happens during surgery to treat valve disease?
Every valve repair is different. Greater than 90% of the injured valves are able to be repaired with sutures. This allows the native valve to be saved. In some cases, mechanical or bioprosthetic valves are necessary. You will meet with your child’s surgeon prior to surgery and he/she will discuss with you the best way to repair the valve.
What happens after surgery? Will my child require care throughout childhood/adulthood?
After heart valve surgery, your child will stay in the hospital between 3 to 10 days. If your child is a newborn and requires heart valve surgery, the hospitalization will likely be longer. Your child will stay in the ICU and be monitored closely until discharge. Once your child goes home, they are usually fully recovered by 6-8 weeks. Your surgeon and nurse practitioner will discuss your child’s particular restrictions with you following the surgery. It is important to know that your child will be followed by a cardiology for his/her entire life following surgery.