Understanding Structural Heart Disease

Your Heart’s Anatomy 

Heart Structures in content diagramThe heart muscle is two hard-working pumps that work side by side to circulate blood throughout the body. The right side of the heart (blue) pumps blood through your lungs, where oxygen is picked up and carbon dioxide is removed. The left side of the heart (red) receives oxygen-rich blood and pumps it to your vital organs and body tissues.

Blood moves when the heart contracts and squeezes blood out of the chamber. When the heart relaxes, blood can flow in. The two upper chambers of your heart are called the atria. They receive blood returning from the body through veins, and need only a small amount of force to move blood to the chambers below. The ventricles are the muscular lower chambers; tremendous force is required for their individual contributions toward blood flow. The right ventricle sends oxygen-poor blood to the lungs. The left ventricle uses powerful contractions to deliver oxygen-rich blood your body. Each chamber has its own valve designed to keep blood flowing smoothly in one direction. Watch this animated video and see how the heart works. 

Causes of Disease

Structural heart conditions present at birth are also called congenital heart defects or diseases. Exact causes are unknown, but research has found congenital heart defects tends to run in families and often occur with other genetic problems. Conditions a woman may experience during pregnancy, such as a German measles (Rubella) infection, exposure to certain chemicals and drugs, or her use of alcohol may increase a baby’s risk to develop congenital heart disease. Most are found during infancy and childhood, however, there have been cases when congenital heart defects weren’t discovered until adulthood. 

Structural heart disease can also be acquired. Adults are at risk of developing a structural heart condition if their medical history includes:  

Signs and Symptoms 

In the earliest stages, people with structural heart disease may not have symptoms, while others can have many. Signs and symptoms are usually related to the progression of the specific disease. 

Our characteristic heart sounds, “lubb-dubb,” are caused by the closing of healthy heart valves. With structural heart valve disease, a different sound, called a heart murmur, is often produced. A new or loud murmur should prompt your health care provider to look further into your heart’s health. Other signs can include:

  • Arrhythmias, irregular heart rhythms, palpitations, or a rapid pulse  
  • Chest pain or pressure; because chest pain may also be a sign of a heart attack, call 911 immediately 
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD) 
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Fatigue 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Leg cramps 
  • Migraine headache 
  • Shortness of breath that increases with exercise 
  • Stroke 
  • Swelling of the ankles, feet, or abdomen 
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)  
  • Weight gain (Rapid) 

These physical changes may be an indication of a heart problem or another medical condition. Please remember that by taking care of yourself, you give yourself the best odds for a long and healthy life. If you experience one or more of the above symptoms, we encourage you to contact your health care provider for further evaluation.

Complications 

Structural heart conditions are mechanical problems that don’t go away. You can develop one or more of these medical conditions below because of structural heart disease:

  • Arrhythmias: Individuals with underlying structural heart disease are more likely to have a heart rhythm disorder, too. Each heartbeat begins with an electrical impulse that signals certain areas of the heart to contract. These contractions open valves and move blood forward through the chambers in a cycle. When one of the heart’s structures is damaged and not functioning as designed, your rhythmic heartbeat can be altered. 
  • Bacterial endocarditis: This can be the result of an infection caused by bacteria that enter the bloodstream and settle in the heart’s lining, a valve, or a blood vessel. Endocarditis is uncommon, but people with certain structural heart conditions have a greater risk of developing it after exposure to bacteria. 
  • Heart failure: Heart failure doesn’t mean that the heart has stopped working. Heart failure means that heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Why? Because the muscle is weaker than normal or structural heart disease is preventing normal blood flow to the muscle itself. Without normal blood flow kidneys receive less blood, and less fluid is pulled out of circulation for urine. The extra circulating fluid builds up in the lungs, the liver, around the eyes, and sometimes in the legs. This is called fluid “congestion,” and for these reasons the condition is sometimes called congestive heart failure.
  • Pulmonary hypertension: As structural heart disease progresses, the heart may need to work harder to force blood to the lungs via the pulmonary arteries. As in a kinked garden hose, pressure in the arteries can build up and back up, causing them to constrict, and their walls thicken. The end result? Arteries may not be able to carry an adequate volume of blood to circulate through the lungs for oxygenation. Eventually, the heart can’t keep up; less oxygen is available to the brain and body; and patients may experience symptoms of fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath with normal activities.

Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Medical Management of Structural Heart Disease

Find more information about symptoms, diagnosis, planning your care, and medical management of structural heart diseases.

Don’t Give Your Heart to Anyone. Trust Premier Health

The Structural Heart Program’s innovative technologies and techniques are designed to provide quality care for positive patient outcomes - with fewer complications, shorter recoveries, and long-lasting benefits. We welcome patients seeking second opinions on their heart disease care and treatment options. 

If you or a loved one would like more information about the many services our Structural Heart Program offers, please call (937) 499-7427(937) 499-7427.

Content Updated: June 18, 2018

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