There are four major valves controlling the flow of blood into, out of, and between the four chambers of the heart. Several disease processes, including infection and toxicity, may damage the valves, causing them to malfunction, and may produce severe heart and/or lung disease.
The occurrence of a new heart murmur (abnormal sound as the blood flows over a valve) is usually the first indication of the development of valvular heart disease. Abnormal valve function may then be evaluated by a painless, non-invasive test called echocardiography, usually performed by a cardiologist. More severe symptoms of the disease include shortness of breath, loss of tolerance to physical activity, and fluid retention in the legs and lungs.
In some instances, medication can control the heart failure associated with valvular damage. In others, surgery to replace the valves with artificial valves may be necessary.
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