The Heart: Works Like a House
The heart is like a house. It has
- its own electrical system (which helps beat the heart),
- plumbing system (arteries, which bring oxygen and energy for the heart muscle to pump and veins, which drain the used blood back into the system),
- 4 rooms (chambers) and
- 4 doors (valves).
The valves or doors help direct the flow of blood in one (forward) direction. Blood enters the heart through the right side and passing through 2 chambers and 2 valves goes to the lungs. Here it gets rid of used oxygen (carbon dioxide) and gets new oxygen.
The blood enters back in the left side of the heart and going through 2 left-sided chambers and 2 valves gets pumped out to the brain and the rest of the body where you need oxygen and other nutrients for them to function.
- The two valves on the right side are the tricuspid and pulmonic valves.
- The 2 valves on the left side are the mitral and aortic valves.
Heart valve disease occurs if one or more of your heart valves don't work well.
Right-sided valves take blood to the lungs to get oxygen. Left-sided valves are more important since they supply blood to your brain and rest of the body for you to function. These valves have tissue flaps that open and close with each heartbeat, just like doors. The flaps are controlled by the chords, like hinges on doors. The flaps make sure blood flows in the right direction through your heart's four chambers and to the rest of your body. If the door gets rusted as you get older, it may not open and let the blood go forward and your body may not get enough oxygenated blood, causing fatigue, shortness of breath, passing out and other symptoms. If the hinges are broken, the door may not close and the blood may leak backwards instead of going forward.
- If this leakage involves left- sided valves, it may accumulate in your lungs and cause you to be short of breath especially at night.
- If this leakage involves right-sided valves, the blood may accumulate and cause edema in your legs or swelling of your abdomen.
- In either case you will not have enough forward flow of blood and result in a variety of symptoms.
For some people, heart valve disease remains the same throughout their lives and doesn't cause any problems. For others it slowly worsens until symptoms develop.
If left untreated, advanced heart valve disease can cause heart failure, stroke, blood clots or death due to sudden cardiac arrest.
Fortunately, there is hope through a variety of measures; some as easy as daily medication can relieve many disease symptoms and complications.