Heart Valve Disease

What Is Heart Valve Disease?

Heart valve disease occurs when the heart valves do not work the way they should.

How Do Heart Valves Work?

Your heart valves lie at the exit of each of your four heart chambers and maintain one-way blood flow through your heart. The four heart valves make sure that blood always flows freely in a forward direction and that there is no backward leakage.

What Are the Types of Heart Valve Disease?

There are several types of heart valve disease:

  • Valvular stenosis. This occurs when a heart valve doesn’t fully open due to stiff or fused leaflets. The narrowed opening may make the heart work very hard to pump blood through it. This can lead to heart failure and other symptoms (see below). All four valves can develop stenosis; the conditions are called tricuspid stenosis, pulmonic stenosis, mitral stenosis, or aortic stenosis.
  • Valvular insufficiency. Also called regurgitation, incompetence, or “leaky valve,” this occurs when a valve does not close tightly. If the valves do not seal, some blood will leak backwards across the valve. As the leak worsens, the heart has to work harder to make up for the leaky valve, and less blood may flow to the rest of the body. Depending on which valve is affected, the condition is called tricuspid regurgitation, pulmonary regurgitation, mitral regurgitation, or aortic regurgitation.

What Causes Heart Valve Disease?

Heart valve disease can develop before birth (congenital) or can be acquired sometime during one’s lifetime. Sometimes, the cause of valve disease is unknown.