What if the doors to your house break or get damaged? It gets difficult to go in and out of the house. Similarly, when the valves to the heart are damaged, the flow of blood is hampered. Heart valve disease is when one of the 4 valves in the heart (bicuspid, pulmonary, tricuspid, aortic) do not open or close effectively. This can cause the blood to flow irregularly throughout the body and can also cause the blood to drain back into the heart. The bicuspid and tricuspid valves are supposed to control the flow and backflow of blood when the ventricles contract to avoid the blood being flowed back into the atrium. The pulmonary and aortic valves on the pulmonary artery and vein help avert the backflow of the blood in the chambers.
The damage in the heart valves can cause damage to other parts of the body as well due to irregular and insufficient circulation of blood. They can also cause:
- Heart failure
- Blood clots
- Heart rhythm abnormalities
Heart valve disease (HVD) is a lifelong disease, there are cases when people do not have any complications due to it. But sometimes it aggravates to a great extent and can be a major threat to an individual’s life. Heart valve diseases can also cause major complications and risks in pregnancy. Periodically, mothers get treated during delivery or pregnancy which poses a threat on the mother as well as the fetus.
Conventionally, for the diagnosis of HVD echocardiography is used. Electrocardiogram and chest x-rays are often used to determine symptoms and signs of the condition, if the symptoms are evident doctors usually use echocardiography to confirm the disease.
Technological advancements ease the process of diagnosing as well as treating such medical illnesses. They give a clearer picture of what is malfunctioning inside the heart.
This simple test detects and records the heart’s electrical activity. An EKG can detect an irregular heartbeat and signs of a previous heart attack. It also can show whether your heart chambers are enlarged.
Echo uses sound waves to create a moving picture of your heart as it beats. A device called a transducer is placed on the surface of your chest.
The transducer sends sound waves through your chest wall to your heart. Echoes from the sound waves are converted into pictures of your heart on a computer screen.
Echo can show:
- The size and shape of your heart valves and chambers
- How well your heart is pumping blood
- Whether a valve is narrow or has backflow.
Heart valve transplant consists of replacing a faulty valve with a well functioning man-made or biological valve. Biological valves are generated from pig/cows/human heart tissues which are occasionally combined with man-made parts. Man-made valves last longer than biological ones but also cause you to take blood-thinning medicine to prevent clots in the valves which can cause strokes and cardiac arrests. Man-made valves also increase the chances of getting infective endocarditis. If you’re athletic or are a woman of childbearing age then using biological valves is more practical as it reduces the drug and medications that go in your body.
Heart valve transplants are advantageous to people suffering from these diseases but they have their own drawbacks and negative implications.
- Ethical: It is not morally acceptable to place another species’ fat and tissues into the human body. Such transplants can cause more infections and diseases. Another issue that could easily come up is organ trafficking, the tissues being transplanted can be from people who have been abducted or trafficked.
- Cultural: There are certain minorities that consider it ‘impure’ to have another animal’s body parts in the human body and also consider dissecting bodies of deceased animals as a sin.
- Political: There can be corruption in the waiting lists for the transplants.