Fatigue, Shortness of Breath, Heart Palpitations...Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease

September 23, 2014

NHRMC Heart Valve Clinic Brings Together Area Experts for Diagnosis and Treatment

Every day your heart sends 2000 gallons of blood surging through your body and flowing through the blood vessels that feed your organs and tissues. And your heart’s four valves are the mechanism that regulates that blood flow, constantly opening and closing to allow blood to flow smoothly and freely,causing the sound of your heartbeat.

But when the remarkable structures of the heart’s valves don’t work properly, the heart’s pumping power is reduced, compromising the cardiovascular system and creating problems.

New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Heart Center was among the first in the state to offer a Heart Valve Clinic to provide comprehensive assessment and timely treatment of patients with heart valve conditions. Through the clinic, the area’s top cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and other specialists collaborate to provide the comprehensive assessment and treatment of patients with heart valve problems.

“Valve conditions can be very complex,” said Howard Marks, MD, Cardiothoracic Surgeon. “For some patients, there are various tests that need to be done and specialists to consult before an effective treatment plan can be established. We bring those steps together so the patient can get one comprehensive assessment and begin treatment more quickly.”

Patients referred by their cardiologist or primary care doctor to the NHRMC Heart Valve Clinic can receive tests that evaluate the how the blood flows through the heart and the electrical impulses that regulate the heart’s beating, as well as lung and kidney function, among others.

“We look at the patient as a whole,” said Dr. Marks. “Together, with all the information from the testing, the specialists can consult on what’s best to help the patient. We develop an individualized treatment plan that takes all the factors into consideration.”

“Even very high risk patients are now candidates for a minimally invasive approach to valve replacement,” added Linda Calhoun, MD, Cardiologist with Cape Fear Cardiology – NHRMC Physician Group. “Many of these patients are very ill. The clinic brings cardiologists and cardiac surgeons together to allow a more rapid, thorough evaluation of these patients in one location. The patient’s care is handled in a coordinated team approach, which is a wonderful way to evaluate and manage the very complicated medical issues of some of our patients.”

Understanding Valve Disease

According to the Heart Valve Society of America, more than five million Americans have moderate or severe heart valve disease, yet valve disease goes undiagnosed and untreated in one-third of all cases. Survival rates for those with advanced valve disease are exceptionally low, which is why it is so important to detect valve disease as early as possible and deliver the appropriate medical treatment.

It’s also important to note that valve disease can be present without any other heart problems. Heart valve disease may be acquired or congenital (present at birth). Acquired valve disease can be a result of infection (such as infective endocarditis or rheumatic fever) or it can occur through structural changes to the valve that take place over time. Congenital valve disease is the result of an abnormality during fetal development.

Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease

“The symptoms of valve disease can range from fatigue all the way up to syncope, or passing out,” said Dr. Marks. “Other symptoms are shortness of breath, for example, if you’re walking up a flight of stairs and feel like you’re not going to make it to the top. It can also present as typical chest pain or heart attack.”

Other symptoms, which may occur suddenly or gradually, include:

  • Difficulty with, or inability to exercise
  • Heart palpitations (sensation of skipping beats)
  • Chest pain, discomfort or pressure
  • Swelling of ankles, feet or stomach
  • Very rapid weight gain (as much as three pounds in one day)
  • Fatigue, weakness or dizziness

    Treatment Options

    Treatment of heart valve disease depends on the severity of each patient’s symptoms and an assessment of additional medical problems, if any. Treatment can include medication, minimally invasive procedures to repair the valve, or surgery to replace or repair the valve.

    “In regards to valve surgery we offer the same options and procedures that larger institutions do, in a much more personalized, local environment,” said Cardiothoracic Surgeon Peter Kane, MD. “We are with the patient through the process and are the ones who take the calls and answer questions that may come up after surgery, regardless of time or day of the week.”

    Learn More

    Click here: NHRMC Heart Valve Program, or call the Heart Valve Program Coordinator at 910.612.8527 or email heart.valve@nhrmc.org.