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What You Should Know About Heart Valve Regurgitation

You may have heard the phrase “leaky heart valve” before, but do you really know what it means?

Heart valve regurgitation, commonly referred to as a leaky heart valve, is the backward flow of blood through the heart due to a valve that doesn’t close properly. There are four valves in the heart, but issues with the mitral and aortic valves can lead to the most health complications. Valve regurgitation can result in fatigue, shortness of breath and general weakness because it causes your heart to work harder to pump the same amount of blood.

A nationally recognized leader in cardiac and aortic surgery, Konstadinos Plestis, MD, joined Abington – Jefferson Health, as director of Jefferson Aorta Surgery. He specializes in the care of patients with complex aortic disease.

Dr. Plestis says that patients with valve regurgitation can remain asymptomatic for a long period of time. If you do develop symptoms, you will notice a shortness of breath that gets progressively worse, followed by weakness in the body. During later stages, you may not be able to sleep flat due to breathing issues.

“Usually patients start complaining about shortness of breath and lack of energy first, and that’s when we’ll evaluate them for valve regurgitation,” says Dr. Plestis.

In order to evaluate your symptoms, you will need to see a cardiologist, who will give you an echocardiogram. This is a test that precisely assesses the valves of the heart.

“If we catch valve regurgitation early, we can treat it with medication, but at later stages, surgery may be needed,” advises Dr. Plestis. Thankfully, patients can receive minimally invasive surgery to treat valve regurgitation that can’t be treated with medication. Most of these patients can go back to normal life within a month of their operation, compared to a three- or four-month recovery period with open heart surgery. Once a valve is repaired with surgery, the likelihood that the same valve will have a problem is very low.

Unfortunately, there’s not much that you can do to prevent valve regurgitation, except for taking precautions to stay generally healthy. When he finds a valve that is experiencing regurgitation, Dr. Plestis says, "there is always a possibility that we can stabilize the situation so the patient won’t need surgery. Keeping up with medical therapy managed by their healthcare provider is key to keeping valve regurgitation under control.”

Heart valve regurgitation can commonly occur in patients who have an aortic aneurysm, a bicuspid aortic valve or other congenital heart disorders that affect the mitral and aortic valves. In these cases, your cardiologist should be on the lookout for symptoms of valve regurgitation through regular checkups.

Compared to other heart conditions, valve regurgitation tends to affect a younger demographic of people. “Patients that come in with heart valve regurgitation are usually between ages 30 and 60, but we also have patients who are in their 20s,” says Dr. Plestis.

If you’re concerned that you’re having symptoms of valve regurgitation, reach out to your healthcare provider to schedule an appointment. If you need a physician, please call Physician Referral at 215-481-6334.

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