Getting an Accurate Heart Valve Diagnosis

doctor talking with patient

You’ll need a careful evaluation to decide on the best treatment.

Several tests can provide information about your heart valves and your circulation. Those tests are described in this section as they relate to valve disease.

Diagnostic checks in your health care professional's office

Your health care team will use diagnostic criteria to assess your needs and determine the severity of problems you might be having. The first diagnostic measure is usually auscultation, which is listening to your heart and any unusual sounds or murmurs with a stethoscope. Sometimes, you may be asked to change your position or bear down with your abdominal muscles to see if the murmur changes.

Learn more about further diagnostic testing

The remainder of this section covers what happens beyond listening to your heart in the office. Read more about echocardiography (PDF)(link opens in new window) – the main diagnostic tool for valve problems. Sometimes, the echocardiogram (echo) will provide all the needed information to decide on a treatment plan or to rule out the need for further treatment.

Sometimes, the information from the echo alone doesn’t provide all the information. You may need further testing including an exercise test, chest X-rays, CT scan and sometimes cardiac catheterization. 

Before seeing your health care professional or consulting a specialist about a possible heart valve problem, you have probably been told you have a murmur that needs to be checked or you may have experienced a physical symptom or group of symptoms that need further investigating.

Heart valve problems and abnormalities, whether because of stenosis or regurgitation, often produce a heart murmur. A heart murmur can be harmless, known as an innocent murmur, but many heart murmurs will need further investigation by your health care professional.

There are several methods for diagnosing heart valve disease. The most important is the echocardiogram

To assess your needs and determine the severity of problems you might be having, your health care team will use the following criteria:

  • Whether or not you are having symptoms of valve problems
  • Whether you have any other heart conditions to consider
  • Appearance of the heart and valves
  • Tightness or looseness of the valve opening
  • Amount and pressure of the blood flowing properly through the valve
  • Pressure and noted changes to the nearby tissues and organs

To fully understand your heart valve problem, your medical team may want to perform a series of tests to provide a complete picture of what needs repair and what may be best left alone.

  1. Appearance: Some tests help to provide a picture of what the valve looks like.
    • Chest X-ray
    • Cardiac computed tomography
  2. Function: Other tests help to determine how well the valve is able to do its job.

  3. Damage or Strain: Still others help to evaluate the entire heart and nearby circulatory organs to see if your valve problem has affected your heart in ways that could place you at increased risk.

Read more about these heart valve tests.