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What are the symptoms of heart valve disease (valvular heart disease)?

Dr. David H. Adams, MD
Cardiothoracic Surgeon

It is common for individuals with valvular heart disease to have no symptoms. If they do, the symptoms are sometimes attributed to other health conditions. Valvular heart diseases might present acutely or more commonly on slow progressive pace. Anyone experiencing one or more of the following symptoms should discuss them with a physician:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing (usually starts with exertion)
  • Swollen ankles or feet
  • Palpitations, or unusual awareness of heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Progressive weight gain

Valvular heart disease may cause the following symptoms:

  • dizziness
  • chest pain
  • breathing difficulties
  • palpitations
  • edema (swelling) of the feet, ankles or abdomen
  • rapid weight gain due to fluid retention

If you have heart valve disease, you may have no warning signs. Additionally, heart valve symptoms are not a reliable indicator of how serious your condition may be. You may have no symptoms but need prompt treatment. Or you may have severe symptoms, but your valve problem may be minor.

Because the severity of symptoms may or may not match the severity of the disease, it is important to see a doctor for diagnosis if you experience any symptoms of heart valve disease. And if you experience an increase in symptoms, it is critical that you ask to see your doctor immediately.

Symptoms of heart valve disease include the following:

  • Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath. This can occur during exertion, during normal daily activities or while lying in bed.
  • Weakness or dizziness.
  • Syncope (passing out). Passing out or fainting may also indicate valve disease.
  • Chest discomfort. Heart valve disease patients may experience chest discomfort, especially when they are active or step out into the cold.
  • Heart palpitations. This feels like a fast or irregular heartbeat or like your heart is flip-flopping.
  • Swollen ankles and feet or swelling in the abdomen, possibly with a bloated feeling in your stomach. Your doctor may refer to the swelling as edema.
  • Fast weight gain. A two- or three-pound gain in a day is possible.

Major signs and symptoms of heart valve disease
The main sign of heart valve disease is an unusual heart sound called a heart murmur. Your doctor can hear a heart murmur with a stethoscope.

However, many people have heart murmurs without having heart valve disease or any other heart problems. Others may have heart murmurs due to heart valve disease, but have no other signs or symptoms.
Heart valve disease often worsens over time, so signs and symptoms may develop years after a heart murmur is first heard. Many people who have heart valve disease don't have any symptoms until they're middle-aged or older.

Other common signs and symptoms of heart valve disease relate to heart failure, which heart valve disease can eventually cause. These symptoms include:

  • Unusual fatigue (tiredness)
  • Shortness of breath, especially when you exert yourself or when you're lying down
  • Swelling of your ankles, feet or sometimes the abdomen

Other signs and symptoms
Heart valve disease can cause chest pain that may only happen when you exert yourself. You also may notice a fluttering, racing or irregular heartbeat. Some types of heart valve disease, such as aortic or mitral valve stenosis, can cause dizziness or fainting.

This answer from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.

Some people who have valvular heart disease do not show symptoms. There are varying degrees of valvular disease, and not all cause problems right away. Because valvular heart disease can cause the heart to work harder, enlarge and ultimately lead to congestive heart failure, symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, fainting, chest pain and ankle swelling may appear as the disease progresses. You may also experience arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat patterns; your heart may feel like it is racing or skips beats on occasion.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.