Heart Valve Disease Diagnosis

Heart valve disease is a treatable condition if diagnosed early. If you are over 65 or think you may have any of the symptoms of heart valve disease, ask your GP for a check-up.

Stethoscope check

Diagnosis starts with a simple step – listening to the heart with a stethoscope. To diagnose heart valve disease, the doctor needs to use a stethoscope to listen for the characteristic heart “murmur” or “click-murmur” which is usually the first indication of a heart valve disorder. They should listen to four positions on your chest during the check.

GP Visit

When visiting the GP keep a record of any symptoms that you’re experiencing. Also, keep a record of the exercise and distance you are doing if you are experiencing symptoms of tiredness and breathlessness. Click here to access our symptom tracker here.

The healthcare professional will usually:

  • Check the patient’s pulse rate and rhythm
  • Take the blood pressure
  • Auscultate (Stethoscope Check) the heart for abnormal cardiac murmur using a stethoscope

Further investigation

If the GP detects an abnormal heart murmur they will refer you to the hospital for further tests. Further diagnostic tests will be undertaken, ranging from electrocardiography (recording the heart’s electrical activity) to echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart). These and other more sophisticated diagnostic tests allow doctors to make a more accurate diagnosis of heart valve disease and determine the level of severity. The cardiologist can give an accurate diagnosis of the type of heart valve disease (stenosis or regurgitation) and which valve is affected.

Catheters are inserted into a vein and an artery to help determine the function and condition of the heart, valves and coronary arteries. It is the only test that can provide an accurate “road map” of the coronary arteries.

This reveals general information about the size and shape of the heart. If a heart becomes enlarged due to valve disease it, will assume different shapes depending on the particular valve disorder.

This simple test records the heart’s electrical activity via electrodes attached to the skin. It is the most direct way to assess the rhythm of the heart. The electrical impulses are recorded in the form of waves on graph paper.

This painless, non-invasive test is used routinely to diagnose valve abnormalities. Ultrasound equipment takes images of the heart while it’s beating, providing a view of blood flow through the heart and identifying areas of regurgitation, if present.

A nuclear scanning method, this tests injects a small amount of radiation into the body via the bloodstream. The radiation is monitored while the patient is at rest and during exercise, providing information about the heart muscle and blood flow, as well as the size and shape of the heart’s pumping chambers (ventriculi).

Passing a probe down the oesophagus provides an image of the heart from behind. This test may be used both prior to and during surgery to accurately show valve regurgitation.

Tips for family, friends and carers

Think about these things before you visit the GP:

  1. When did they first notice their symptoms of breathlessness, chest pains, dizziness, fainting or difficulty exercising?
  2. Have they come on suddenly or gradually?
  3. Have they worsened since first experienced?
  4. What impact have the symptoms had on the patient’s lifestyle? Have they overlooked signs and symptoms, or misdiagnosed them as the natural ageing process?
  5. Do they have a medical history of cardiovascular disease, rheumatic fever, connective tissue disorders or any other co-morbidities?

Patient Story: Morgan

In January this year, while at an appointment with her GP, 63-year-old Morgan, mentioned she had started becoming breathless and had a sharp pain in her chest while walking up an incline. Recognising these were symptoms of a potential heart condition, her GP listened to her heart and heard a murmur. Just weeks later, Morgan was diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis, requiring an urgent, lifesaving intervention.

Read Morgan’s story in full…