If you or someone you love has a potential heart valve problem, the team of healthcare 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 complete diagnosis, here are some terms and related conditions you may find helpful as you participate with your healthcare team to arrive at the right diagnosis.
- Valve gradient
- Ejection fraction
- Related causes and effects
Measuring the Valve Gradient
What is meant by the term “valve gradient”?
The valve’s gradient describes the severity of the narrowing of the valve by the increase in pressure behind it. It helps your healthcare team measure the amount of blood that is able to pass through the valve. It also indicates whether the “velocity” (or speed of movement) of the blood flow is increased because of the increased pressure behind the narrowed valve.
A leaking or regurgitating valve can also affect the pressure in both the receiving chamber and also the nearby pumping chamber as well as the nearby circulatory organs.
Understanding Your Heart’s Ejection Fraction
What is my ejection fraction and why does it matter?
The heart’s ejection fraction is a term that describes how well the heart can pump blood out of the chamber. A heart specialist will determine how much blood fills the chamber when the heart is relaxed and will compare that to the amount of blood that is squeezed out of the chamber once the heart contracts.
The heart should be able to pump out 50-60% or more of the blood in the chamber during a contraction in order to keep blood circulating well. When that number falls, especially if it falls down into the 35%-and-below range, it can indicate a significant problem with either the valve or the heart muscle responsible for contracting. 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, whether because of a valve that will not open or because of some other condition, the heart muscle may respond by thickening, called hypertrophy. A significantly enlarged chamber or a very thickened heart muscle indicates that one or more forms of heart disease is advancing.
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.
- Atrial fibrillation
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Clot-related stroke
- 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.