If you or someone you love has a potential heart valve problem, a team of health care providers may perform several tests to confirm the diagnosis and look for other possible related conditions.
As you prepare for your visit with a specialist, or begin the testing for a diagnosis, here are some terms and related conditions you may find helpful.
The following measures and tests are used to evaluate heart valve conditions.
An echocardiogram is a test that uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to make pictures of your heart. The test is also called echocardiography.
An echocardiogram looks at your heart’s structure and checks how well your heart functions.
Measuring the Valve Gradient
The valve gradient is the difference in pressure on each side of the valve. When a valve is narrowed (a condition called stenosis), the pressure on the front of the valve builds up as blood is forced through the narrow opening. This causes a larger pressure difference between the front and back of the valve. The valve gradient can be used to determine the severity of the valve disorder.
A leaking or regurgitating valve can also affect the pressure in both the heart chambers as well as surrounding blood vessels.
Measuring the Valve Area
The valve area is the size of the open valve. This is done using measurements during an echocardiogram. The valve area is in square centimeters and can be used to determine the severity of the valve disorder.
Understanding Ejection Fraction
The ejection fraction describes how well the heart can pump blood.
A normal ejection fraction is 50% to 70%. This means that between 50% and 70% of the blood in the heart is pumped out with each heartbeat. When that number falls, especially below 40%, it can indicate a significant problem with the heart muscle. Learn more about ejection fraction.
Checking Your Heart Muscle’s Response to Your Valve Condition
When the heart muscle has trouble moving blood through the chambers due to valve disease, it may respond by thickening, called hypertrophy. The heart’s chambers may also enlarge. A significantly enlarged chamber or a very thickened heart muscle may be a sign of valve disease or other heart conditions.
Because healthy heart valves are critically important to a healthy circulatory system, a heart valve problem can either be the cause or the effect of several other related problems. Taking a few minutes to learn more about these conditions can help you become better prepared to understand the diagnostic process and manage your condition.
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Aneurysm (in nearby arteries such as the aorta)
To fully understand your valve condition or the problems you or your loved one may be facing, it helps to understand the basics of heart valves and circulation.