Heart Valve Defects
Heart valves are like one-way gates between the chambers of the heart. They allow blood to flow in only one direction — through the heart, to the lungs and back to the heart which pumps the oxygenated blood throughout the body. Properly working heart valves don't allow the blood to flow backward, into the chamber from which it came.
Types of Heart Valve Defects
Heart valves have three main types of problems:
- Regurgitation: When this happens, the valve doesn't completely close and allows blood to flow backwards in the wrong direction. The most common cause of regurgitation is prolapse, a situation where the flaps or leaflets that close to prevent the blood from flowing backwards don't close properly. Instead they bulge back into an upper heart chamber during a heartbeat. Prolapse usually affects the mitral valve.
- Stenosis: Stenosis happens when the leaflets of a heart valve thicken, become stiff, or stick together. When this occurs, the valve doesn't open completely. This prevents enough blood from flowing through the valve. Sometimes, a valve can be both stenotic and allow regurgitation.
- Atresia: Atresia occurs when a heart valve doesn't have an opening for the blood to flow through.
Disease of the heart valves can begin before birth during fetal development, or during the life of a person. Valvular disease that begins before birth, called congenital disease, often affects the pulmonary or aortic valves when they don't develop properly. The valves may lack enough flaps of tissue, they may be the wrong shape or size, or they may not have a hole for the blood to flow through.
If a valve becomes diseased after someone is born, called acquired disease, it usually affects the aortic or mitral valves. While these valves start out being normal, they develop problems over time. Either congenital or acquired valve disease can result in stenosis or regurgitation.
Long-term Complications of Heart Valve Defects
Heart valve defects or disease cause no problems in many people. In others, however, heart valve disease can become worse over time until symptoms develop.
Untreated heart valve disease can result in:
- Death (because of sudden cardiac arrest)
- Heart failure
- Blood clots
Causes of Heart Valve Defects
There are many causes of heart valve defects. Some begin before birth, in the developing fetus. Others are acquired. If an outside toxin interferes with the development of a baby's heart, the baby can be born with a defect of the heart, which can involve the heart's valves. The class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), for instance, has been associated with an increase in the risk of birth defects when women take them during their pregnancies.
SSRIs and Heart Defect Risk
According to a Safety Communication published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2011, no well-controlled adequate studies have been made of SSRIs in pregnant women. However, the heart begins to develop early in the life of the fetus. It is possible that a pregnant woman's exposure to an SSRI might adversely affect the development of the heart, and cause heart defects in the newborn.
Acquired causes of heart valve disease include:
- Conditions that can cause the heart valves to become misshapen, including a heart attack, advanced high blood pressure and heart failure, and atherosclerosis in the aorta (the main artery that carries oxygen-laden blood to the body).
- Calcium deposits that accumulate with age and cause stenosis, especially of the aortic valve.
- Untreated strep infections that lead to rheumatic fever and can result in damaged or scarred heart valves.
- Infective endocarditis caused by germs entering the blood that flows to the inner surface of the heart, including the heart valves.
- Autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus.
- Carcinoid syndrome, a condition in which tumors spread from the digestive tract to the liver and lymph nodes and can affect the tricuspid and pulmonary valves.
- Metabolic disorders, including high cholesterol.
- Radiation therapy to the chest for cancer; symptoms may not appear until many years after treatment.
- Connective tissue disorders, including the congenital Marfan syndrome.
Genetic and environmental factors may affect the heart as it develops in the fetus. These factors, however, are not yet known.
Contact a Heart Defect Lawyer
If your baby was born with a heart defect and you took an SSRI drug during your pregnancy, you may be eligible to seek compensation for your baby's suffering. To find out if you qualify to file a birth defect claim, contact a birth defect lawyer at the Flood Law Group today.
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