Pulmonary Valve: Everything You Need To Know

The heart is a delicate machine and ingenious feat of nature. It holds the power of life in our chests, and is an integral component in our bodies. Any threat to its inner workings is a threat on our life.

Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky to be born with a perfectly-functioning heart. Just the smallest defect can cause serious problems, and dramatically change the outlook on life for a newborn baby.

In this article, we’ll look at a key part of the human heart – the pulmonary valve.

What is the Pulmonary Valve?

In a human heart that is fully-developed, there will be four valves. The principal role of these valves is to regulate the flow of blood coming into, and going out of the heart.

Diagram of heart

The heart also has four separate chambers. The two upper chambers are the right atrium and left atrium, while the two lower chambers are called the right ventricle and left ventricle.

The pulmonary valve is the one that is located between the ventricle and atrium on the right side.

As the right ventricle contracts, this valve will open up, allowing blood that is low in oxygen to flow out of the right ventricle into the pulmonary artery. This artery carries the blood to your lungs so it can be resupplied with oxygen.

As the right ventricle relaxes, the valve closes over, forming a tight seal that stops blood flowing back into the ventricle.

What Happens When This Valve Doesn’t Function Correctly?

Man having a chest pain

If the valve doesn’t develop or function correctly, the flow of blood that goes from the heart to the lungs will be disrupted. There are a lot of potential problems that can arise in this scenario.

Firstly, your heart will gradually need to work harder than usual so that your body still receives a sufficient blood supply. The long-term effects of this on your heart can cause hypertrophy, higher blood pressure, and a weakened heart.

In time, without any medical intervention, it’s quite possible that a problem with this key valve can eventually lead to heart failure.

Common Problems with the Heart’s Most Important Valve

There are a lot of things that can impact the functionality and effectiveness of the heart. When it comes to the valve that controls blood flow to the lungs, even a small issue can be a big concern.​

Pulmonary Valve Regurgitation

pulmonary valve regurgitation

This condition is sometimes known as a leaky valve. With a leaky valve, blood will flow backwards. That means that instead of flowing into the lungs to receive more oxygen, the blood flows back into the heart.

This problem can arise when you are suffering from pulmonary hypertension, although it is also possible to get regurgitation from a congenital heart disease, such as stenosis.

Other causes include bacterial infection or post-surgery complications.

Pulmonary Stenosis

pulmonary heart stenosis

If the valve gets thicker or obstructed, then you can develop a condition known as pulmonary stenosis.

This makes it more difficult for the valve to open properly. As a result, the heart can’t pump blood the way it usually would, which leads to circulation problems.

This is a congenital heart defect, and as such, not a lot is known about the precise causes.

Pulmonary Atresia

Pulmonary Atresia

Pulmonary atresia is a heart defect that happens during fetal growth. This birth defect affects the heart valve responsible for controlling the flow of blood to the lungs.

If you have a normal heart, the right-hand side of the heart will pump blood that is oxygen-poor from your heart to your lungs via the pulmonary artery. When the blood returns from the lungs, it will be rich in oxygen, and ready to be pumped around the rest of your body.

If your baby has pulmonary atresia, then they won’t have a pulmonary valve.

As a result, it won’t be possible for blood to move from the right ventricle to the lungs. This makes it difficult to resupply the blood with oxygen before it is distributed around the body.

Like all critical congenital heart defects, a baby that has pulmonary atresia will require surgical procedures soon after they are born.

How to Spot the Signs of Congenital Heart Problems

Congenital heart defects are usually quite easy to spot in the first days and weeks of life. Babies will usually exhibit symptoms of heart issues pretty soon after they are born, and parents should react quickly if they notice or suspect any problem.

While the severity of any heart problems can vary from one person to the next, the common symptoms of a disease or deformity with the key valve are much the same.

Here’s what you should look out for with your newborn baby:

  • ​Excessive fatigue
  • ​Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • ​Bluish tinge to the skin
  • ​Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)

​Taking action quickly can save the life of your baby, and also boosts the chances that surgery will be successful.​

Treatment for Issues with the Heart’s Valves

Heart diagram

If you have pulmonary valve disease, then surgery will be necessary. In the case of pulmonary atresia, a baby will need to have a valve replacement.

Such treatments will help to normalize the blood flow, and reduce the symptoms such as the pressure on the heart and lungs. Ultimately, treatment is necessary to preserve the heart muscle and give someone a chance at a full life.

Without surgery, it’s unlikely that a person with issues to this critical valve will survive to adulthood.

However, there may be a brighter outlook for some people that just have mild pulmonary valve disease that doesn’t cause any symptoms. They may just need some careful monitoring by their doctor and will need to make a few lifestyle changes.

An Overview of Valve Repairs and Replacement

Heart Valve

There are several factors to consider when thinking about repairing or replacing a valve. These include:

How severe the damage or disease is to the valve:

  • ​Your age
  • ​Current health and physical condition
  • ​If you need another related heart surgery. It may be possible to treat multiple issues with one surgery.

​Generally speaking, if it’s possible to do a repair rather than a replacement, then that is the preferred option.

With a repair, there is a lower risk of a complications or infections. It also is a better choice to preserve the strength and function of the existing valve. Furthermore, you won’t need any blood-thinning medication, which is often required prior to valve replacement surgery.

However, not every valve can simply be repaired. Sometimes a repair is a more difficult operation, and in the case of atresia, there is no valve to begin with.

Your doctor and the cardiology team will assess people on a case-by-case basis, and ultimately, they will make the best decision for your long-term health.

Whichever route they go, both repairs and replacements are performed by open-heart surgery. This involves small incisions in the chest, even in methods with minimal invasion.

A Deeper Look at Valve Repairs

Surgeons doing a surgery

A repair will be done through open-heart surgery, which involves opening up the sternum. The bones will be wired shut again afterwards, which prevents any movement and also aids the post-op healing.

The repair procedure can include the following aspects:

  • ​The doctors separate valve leaflets that have become fused together
  • ​They reconstruct new leaflets using tissues from your heart
  • ​They remove any patches that were previously placed in earlier operations
  • ​They remove tissue or reshape it so the valve closes more tightly
  • ​They implant an artificial ring to reinforce the valve seal

A Deeper Look at Valve Replacement

Valve replacement

If the medical team deem your valve to be too defective or damaged for a repair, they will remove it completely. Then it will be replaced by a mechanical valve.

This valve is constructed from artificial material, or it may be a biological valve, which is actually made out of pig or cow valves.

Over time, these biological tissues generate, which means you will need ongoing operations to replace the valve.

People who get mechanical valves need to take medications for life. This medication thins their blood, preventing blood clots.

Prior to any operation, doctors will discuss the pros and cons of each valve, and delve into the risks and the benefits of either one.

Although a replacement surgery does involve making incisions on your chest, it may be possible that this can be done with a less invasive procedure, which would leave you with significantly smaller scars than those present after a traditional open-heart surgery.

This might sound more appealing to you, but these minimally invasive procedures are less common, usually because the safety and success rests heavily on how skillful and experienced the medical team are.

Pulmonary Valve Surgery involves some Risk

Heart Medication

Depending on the severity of your condition, and whether or not you have any other heart complications, there is a definite risk to going under the knife.

That being said, a problem with the valve is not something to be ignored. In newborn babies, it’s crucial that parents seek urgent medical attention if their child has a heart problem.

For older people, you can get all the advice and information from your doctor and cardiologists to make the right decision.

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