In heart valve disease, one or more of the valves in your heart doesn't work properly.
Your heart has four valves that keep blood flowing in the correct direction. In some cases, one or more of the valves don't open or close properly. This can cause the blood flow through your heart to your body to be disrupted.
Your heart valve disease treatment depends on the heart valve affected and the type and severity of the disease. Sometimes heart valve disease requires surgery to repair or replace the heart valve.
Some people with heart valve disease might not have symptoms for many years. When signs and symptoms occur, they might include:
- Whooshing sound (heart murmur) when a doctor is listening to the heart with a stethoscope
- Chest pain
- Abdominal swelling (more common with advanced tricuspid regurgitation)
- Shortness of breath, particularly when active or lying down
- Swelling of your ankles and feet
- Irregular heartbeat
When to see a doctor
If you have symptoms that might suggest heart valve disease, see your doctor. If you have a heart murmur, your doctor might suggest that you see 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 normal heart and heart valve problems
Heart valve problems may include a narrowed valve (stenosis), a leaking valve (regurgitation) or a valve with leaflets that are bulging back (prolapse), as shown in the bottom two images. Normal heart valves and blood flow are shown in the top image.
The four heart valves, which keep blood flowing in the right direction, are the mitral, tricuspid, pulmonary and aortic valves. Each valve has flaps (leaflets) that open and close once per heartbeat. If one or more of the valves fail to open or close properly, the blood flow through your heart to your body is disrupted.
Heart valve disease may be present at birth (congenital). It can also occur in adults due to many causes and conditions, such as infections and other heart conditions.
Heart valve problems include:
- Regurgitation. The valve flaps don't close properly, causing blood to leak backward in your heart. This commonly occurs due to valve flaps bulging back, a condition called prolapse.
- Stenosis. The valve flaps become thick or stiff and possibly fuse together. This results in a narrowed valve opening and reduced blood flow through the valve.
- Atresia. The valve isn't formed, and a solid sheet of tissue blocks the blood flow between the heart chambers.
Several factors can increase your risk of heart valve disease, including:
- Older age
- History of certain infections that can affect the heart
- History of certain forms of heart disease or heart attack
- High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other heart disease risk factors
- Heart conditions present at birth (congenital heart disease)
Heart valve disease can cause many complications, including:
- Heart failure
- Blood clots
- Heart rhythm abnormalities
Sept. 29, 2021