Pulmonary Valve Stenosis: 4 Ways to Improve Quality of Life
Pulmonary valve stenosis is the narrowing of the valve that separates the heart’s right ventricle from the pulmonary artery. As a result, the heart has to work harder to pump blood. It’s nearly always a congenital condition, meaning that babies are born with it, and we don’t exactly know why it occurs. Many people are born with a mild case, and luckily for them, they don’t experience too much trouble. In fact, they might only experience mild symptoms, if any.
But when a person is born with a moderate or severe case, they may experience a number of symptoms, and they’ll likely get worse over time. Those symptoms might include shortness of breath, hard or fast breathing, a bluish tinge around the mouth, fatigue, tendency toward fainting, a fast heart rate, and swelling of the arms, legs, face, or belly.
Fortunately, most people can have a full and healthy life if they’re living with pulmonary stenosis. They just have to be deliberate about monitoring their condition and addressing any changes in symptoms, which may mean replacing their pulmonary valve.
A heart-healthy lifestyle is key for anyone with pulmonary stenosis. Here are some principles to learn and embrace in your daily life:
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. This type of diet typically prioritizes lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean sources of protein. Avoid unhealthy fats, processed foods, added sugar, and sodium.
- Regular exercise is always a good idea. Check with your doctor about appropriate activities if you have concerns, but you could always try a low-impact activity, like walking, on a regular basis.
- Stop smoking. Among other harmful effects it has on your body, smoking causes blood vessels to narrow, and as you can probably surmise, that could complicate your situation even further.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly, you’re doing a lot of the work to achieve this goal. Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial because extra pounds can raise your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
Your doctor can talk to you about modifications that might be necessary to any of these strategies, too.
People with damaged or abnormal heart valves are at increased risk for developing endocarditis. Endocarditis is inflammation of the lining of the heart’s valves and chambers that’s usually caused by a bacterial infection. In the past, experts recommended that people with any kind of congenital heart defect, such as pulmonary stenosis, take antibiotics before a dental procedure or certain types of surgery to reduce their risk of developing endocarditis.
Luckily for people with pulmonary valve stenosis, though, those recommendations were changed a few years ago. Those prophylactic antibiotics are no longer an absolute must for everyone in that category. However, they might be necessary for your specific case, so it’s important to check with your doctor about it. For example, if you have recently undergone surgery to your valve, or experienced any residual problems like leaking after the surgery or repair, antibiotics may still be necessary before you goto the dentist. You may also need a round of antibiotics before undergoing a dental procedure like a root canal.
At some point, people who have a moderate to severe case of pulmonary valve stenosis may realize that their symptoms are worsening, and it’s harder for them to carry out their activities of daily living. At this point, their doctor may suggest a procedure or surgery to improve the flow of blood.
So, if you have pulmonary stenosis (or your child has it), and the symptoms are getting worse, your doctor may talk to you about the possibility of treatments such as:
- Pulmonary valve surgery, an open-heart surgery which entails repairing the misshapen pulmonary valve or replacing the valve altogether
- Balloon valvuloplasty, which involves the use of a catheter containing a balloon to stretch open the narrowed pulmonary valve
- Transcatheter pulmonary valve replacement (TPVR), a less-invasive procedure in which a surgeon replaces the pulmonary valve via catheter.
The right treatment for pulmonary valve stenosis can make a big difference in your quality of life. In fact, the long-term prognosis for most people who undergo balloon valvuloplasty or valve replacement is excellent, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). You should be able to go about your normal activities without any trouble and without any increased risk. Even children with pulmonary stenosis can have their valves replaced. In fact, experts note that many children do very well after valve replacement, and they don’t need additional treatment afterward.
Complications, like heart failure or heart arrhythmia, can arise from pulmonary stenosis. If you are the parent of a child with pulmonary stenosis, be vigilant about the appearance or worsening of symptoms like fatigue, swelling of the extremities, face or abdomen, a rapid heart rate and breathing problems. Don’t hesitate to contact your child’s doctor and ask how to proceed. If you’re the one with pulmonary stenosis, just keep an eye out on your own symptoms and notify your doctor if anything seems unusual.