More than 5 million Americans suffer from heart valve disease, a condition affecting the leaflets that keep blood flowing through the heart in the right direction.
But many people are unaware they have the condition that, left untreated, can gradually put hearts—and lives—at risk.
A heart murmur may be the only sign of a problem, say experts. In most cases, the disease develops so slowly that people barely notice its symptoms.
To protect your heart, ask your doctor about testing for valve abnormalities if you experience any of the following:
▪ Shortness of breath when performing normal daily activities, exercising, or lying flat.
▪ Irregular heartbeats, a rapid heart rhythm, skipped beats or a “flip-flop” sensation in the chest.
▪ Swelling of the ankles, feet, or abdomen
▪ Fatigue, weakness, or dizziness
▪ Pressure or weight in the chest with activity or going out in cold air that is unrelated to heart attack or coronary artery disease.
Treating valve problems with prescription drugs is often effective. Those with more serious abnormalities, however, require surgical treatment to avoid heart damage and restore normal valve function.
A Scaffolding For the Heart
Around the world, more than 200,000 people have surgery to repair the aortic valve—the doorway through which oxygen-rich blood passes as it exits the heart. In addition, about 75,000 Americans have procedures to repair the heart’s mitral valve that opens into its main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, and keeps blood flowing normally through the heart.
An innovative new patch called CorMatrix ECM (extracellular matrix) allows doctors to expand an area of the heart to make room for the replacement valve, explains Marc Gerdisch, M.D., director of cardiothoracic surgery at the St. Francis Heart Center in Indianapolis. In other cases, the new material may be used for reconstructing a flap on a patient’s valve, adds the surgeon, who was the first in the world to use the ECM material to rebuild structures inside the heart.
See how ECM technology helps repair damaged heart tissue .
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now