In heart valve disease, one or more of the valves in the heart doesn't work properly. There are four heart valves. They keep blood flowing through the heart in the correct direction. Sometimes a valve doesn't open or close all the way. This can change how blood flows through the heart to the rest of the body.
Heart valve disease treatment depends on the heart valve affected and the type and severity of the disease. Sometimes surgery is needed to repair or replace the heart valve.
Some people with heart valve disease might not have symptoms for many years. When symptoms occur, they might include:
- Shortness of breath at rest or when active or lying down.
- Chest pain.
- Swelling of the ankles and feet.
- Irregular heartbeat.
When to see a doctor
If you have symptoms of possible heart valve disease, make an appointment for a health checkup. You may be referred to a doctor trained in heart diseases, called a cardiologist.
Chambers and valves of the heart
A typical heart has two upper and two lower chambers. The upper chambers, the right and left atria, receive incoming blood. The lower chambers, the more muscular right and left ventricles, pump blood out of the heart. The heart valves, which keep blood flowing in the right direction, are gates at the chamber openings.
A typical heart and heart valve disease
Heart valve disease may include a narrowed valve, called valve stenosis. Sometimes, blood moves backward through a valve. This is called valve regurgitation. If the valve flaps bulge backward, the condition is called valve prolapse.
To understand the causes of heart valve disease, it may be helpful to know how the heart works.
Four valves in the heart keep blood flowing in the right direction. These valves are:
- Aortic valve.
- Mitral valve.
- Pulmonary valve.
- Tricuspid valve.
Each valve has flaps, called leaflets or cusps. The flaps open and close once during each heartbeat. If a valve flap doesn't open or close properly, less blood moves out of the heart to the rest of the body.
Types of heart valve disease include:
- Stenosis. The valve flaps become thick or stiff and sometimes can join together. The valve opening becomes narrowed. Less blood can flow through the narrowed valve.
- Regurgitation. The valve flaps may not close tightly, causing blood to leak backward.
- Prolapse. The valve flaps become stretched out and floppy. They bulge backward like a parachute. This condition can lead to regurgitation.
- Atresia. The valve isn't formed. A solid sheet of tissue blocks the blood flow between the heart chambers. This type usually affects the pulmonary valve.
Some people are born with heart valve disease. This is called congenital heart valve disease. But adults can get heart valve disease too. Causes of heart valve disease in adults may include infections, age-related changes and other heart conditions.
Several things can increase the risk of heart valve disease, including:
- Older age.
- Some infections, such as rheumatic fever or blood infections.
- A heart attack or some types of heart disease.
- High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other heart disease risk factors.
Heart valve disease can cause many complications, including:
- Heart failure
- Blood clots
- Heart rhythm abnormalities
Nov. 22, 2023