The signs of a heart valve disorder can often be heard through a stethoscope. Your doctor may also order additional tests, including chest x-ray, electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) or echocardiogram.
You may also be referred for a diagnostic cardiac catheterization. This procedure is performed in hospital under local anesthetic. Diagnostic cardiac catheterization involves inserting a hollow plastic tube (catheter) through the skin into an artery and guiding it towards the heart to evaluate coronary arteries, heart valves and heart function.
The best treatment for you will depend on your age, your general health and the severity of your heart condition. Some heart valve problems respond well to lifestyle changes and medications.
When medical management is not enough to manage your heart valve condition, your heart specialist may recommend a valve repair or replacement. It may be possible to surgically correct defects in the valve. However, if the heart valves are too badly damaged to be successfully repaired, valve replacement is an option. Replacement heart valves may be either mechanical (metal and plastic) or bioprosthetic (from human donors or animals).
Under most circumstances, the best option for valve repair or replacement is to use open heart valve surgery. It involves opening the chest cavity to reach the heart valves. A cardio-pulmonary bypass machine pumps blood through the body while the heart valve is being repaired or replaced.
Open heart surgery may be considered too risky for people who are very ill or who have other medical problems. In this case, transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) may be recommended.
TAVI is a valve replacement procedure that uses a catheter-based collapsible stent valve. The catheter is inserted through the groin artery or chest wall and guided to the aortic valve opening in your heart where it is implanted over your existing valve.