Structural Heart Disease

Structural heart disease is a defect or abnormality of the heart and umbrellas many different types of cardiac conditions. It is non-coronary, which means that it does not affect the blood vessels in the heart.

It can affect an individual from birth, which is known as congenital heart disease, or it can be acquired in adulthood as we age.

As the American population ages, treatment options for structural heart disease have become increasingly important. Today, less invasive, sustaining interventional treatments are combining a better understanding of the cardiovascular system and muscular structure of the heart with innovative new technology.

Transcatheter therapies have revolutionized treatment of valvular heart disease and significantly reduced the risk of stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib) who cannot take blood thinners.

Anatomy of the Heart

To understand the impact that structural heart disease has on the heart, it is important to understand how the heart works.

In much the same way that the human body is optimally designed as a perfect balance of left and right-side equilibrium, from a musculoskeletal perspective, so too is the heart.

The heart muscle is comprised of two hard-working pumps, which work together (one on the left, one on the right) to pump blood through the lungs – where carbon dioxide is then replaced with oxygen, and the oxygen-rich blood is then pumped to vital organs and tissue.

There are two upper chambers of the heart, which is called the atria (left atrium and right atrium), and two lower chambers known as the ventricles (left ventricle and right ventricle). When the heart contracts, it moves blood out of the upper chamber, and when it relaxes blood flows in.

The right and left chambers of the heart, both upper and lower chambers, each have their own unique role in completing their process and fulfilling their function. While much force is required for the individual contribution of the left and right ventricle toward blood flow, the left ventricle is the main pumping chamber of the heart and the largest and most muscular of the four chambers – utilizing powerful contractions to deliver oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. When the left ventricle contracts, blood is pumped through the aortic valve into the main artery of the body, the aorta.

Each chamber of the heart has its own valve, which is designed to keep blood smoothly flowing in one direction, the mitral valve and aortic valve serving the left chambers and the tricuspid valve and pulmonary valve serving the right chambers.

Types of Structural Heart Conditions

Causes of Structural Heart Disease

While the exact causes of congenital heart defect or disease are not known, many cases are thought to be the result of malformation of the heart during the development of the fetus.

Structural heart disease acquired in adulthood is often preceded by one or several other conditions, including:

  • A family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias)
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Heart attack or stroke

Detecting Disease

Many of the early symptoms of structural heart disease can mimic those associated with everyday activity, aging or prescribed medications – migraine headaches, swelling of the ankles, feet or abdomen, leg cramps, fatigue, dizziness, rapid weight gain. Symptoms become more pronounced as the disease progresses. It is important to listen to your body and report even seemingly minor concerns to your physician during regular checkups.

The types of diagnostic tools used in detecting the presence and severity of structural heart disease include;

  • Echocardiography
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
  • Cardiac MRI
  • Cardiac Catheterization