Heart valve disease is often changes over time. Even when a heart valve condition was previously stable, it can progress quickly with serious consequences.
Your doctor can monitor the condition of your valves in various ways.
- During a detailed physical examination, your doctor will listen for changes in heart murmurs, extra heart sounds such as gallops, or quality of your pulses.
- A series of electrocardiograms (EKGs) can detect changes in heart rhythm, heart chamber size and excessive chamber thickening.
- A chest x-ray can be helpful in assessing heart enlargement and the condition of the lungs.
- For a detailed look at valve function and assessment of narrowing (stenosis) or leakage (regurgitation or insufficiency), echocardiograms can be performed to compare the condition of the heart valve from previous evaluations.
Since symptoms related to valve problems can be slow to develop and notice, your doctor may recommend an exercise stress test as an objective test to compare how well your body is able to deal with a valve problem.
An even more sophisticated test is a cardiac CT (computed tomography) or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, which can give very detailed measurements and assessment of heart and valve function.
Sometimes it is very important to know the exact pressures in the heart chambers or lung vessels. The most accurate way to do this is through a cardiac catheterization.
Check with your doctor to find out how often you should have additional testing to monitor your heart valve problems.