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Symptoms and Diagnosis of Valvular Heart Disease

At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center, we evaluate hundreds of patients each year for valvular heart disease symptoms. In our clinic, you have convenient testing and assessment, usually all in one day, so you get answers right away. 

Valvular Heart Disease Diagnosis: Why Choose Barnes-Jewish Hospital?

Our teams have successfully treated even rare forms of valvular heart disease for decades. You benefit from a skilled assessment of leaky heart valve symptoms, including:

  • Expertise: Even if you have had an evaluation elsewhere, you are welcome to see our team for a second opinion. We diagnose and treat all types of valve problems. That care includes triple valve disease (affecting three heart valves) and issues with the pulmonary valve that not all centers treat.
  • Personal attention: Patients feel comfortable at the Heart & Vascular Center, where we offer every resource you need. We form a close connection with our patients and patients’ families.
  • Collaborative atmosphere: We review your existing imaging and testing and order additional tests only if needed. You receive care from a team of cardiologists (doctors specializing in the heart), heart surgeons and cardiac electrophysiologists (doctors specializing in the heart’s electrical system) who handle minimally invasive heart procedures. 

Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease

You may not notice any symptoms of early valvular heart disease. If it develops slowly, gradual breathlessness may be the main sign. In time, heart valve disease can cause heart failure. 

Symptoms of heart valve disease can include:

  • chest pain during exertion
  • dizziness or passing out (fainting)
  • fatigue (unusual tiredness)
  • gaining weight very fast (due to retained fluids)
  • irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations
  • shortness of breath, especially during activity
  • swelling of the ankles, feet and sometimes the abdomen
  • tightness in the chest

Diagnosing Heart Valve Disease

The first sign of valvular heart disease may be your doctor hearing a heart murmur when listening to your heart with a stethoscope. A heart murmur is an unusual-sounding heartbeat. Based on the specific sounds, your doctor may be able to tell you which valves are damaged and in what way. 

We use diagnostic testing for heart disease to better understand leaking heart valves or other problems. These tests include:

  • 2D and 3D echocardiography, a heart ultrasound that uses sound waves to show moving pictures of your heart, including:
    • transthoracic echocardiography (TTE), also called an echo test
    • transesophageal echo (TEE), using a wand inserted in your esophagus (tube that runs from the throat to the stomach) to provide very clear pictures of your heart
  • cardiac CT scan, which creates X-ray images that we can combine to form a 3D model of your heart
  • cardiac MRI, which uses powerful magnets to produce detailed images of your heart’s structure
  • exercise or stress tests to measure your heart’s performance while you walk on a treadmill or take medicine to raise your heart rate safely

In many patients, valvular heart disease affects a combination of valves, not just one. A problem affecting two valves is called bi-valvular or double valve disease. In rarer cases, people have triple valve disease affecting three valves. 

Based on your condition, we’ll discuss the next steps with you and your family. Learn more about options for heart valve treatment.

Types of Valvular Heart Disease We Treat

If we suspect valvular disease, we study your heart to diagnose the type of heart valve disease you might have. We use minimally invasive and traditional (open) surgical options for heart valve replacement and repair.

We treat heart valve disease that affects any of the four heart valves, including: 

  • acquired valve disease, heart valve problems that develop due to infection or injury
  • bicuspid aortic valve disease, a congenital (present at birth) condition where the aortic valve has only two flaps instead of three
  • regurgitation or leaking heart valves, when blood flows backward through the valve, most often the mitral valve (mitral valve regurgitation)
  • stenosis, or stiffening, of the valves
  • tricuspid valve annulus dilatation, a leaky tricuspid valve
  • valvular prolapse, a leaky heart valve that doesn’t close efficiently, most often affecting the mitral valve (mitral valve prolapse)

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University heart valve specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 888-230-8832.