Get exclusive member benefits & effect social change. Join Today
Heart valve disorders can affect any of the valves in your heart. Your heart valves have flaps that open and close with each heartbeat, allowing blood to flow through the heart’s upper and lower chambers and to the rest of your body. The upper chambers of the heart are the atria, and the lower chambers of the heart are the ventricles.
Your heart has these four valves:
Blood flows from the right and left atria through the tricuspid and mitral valves, which open to allow blood to flow into the right and left ventricles. These valves then close to prevent blood from flowing back into the atria.
Once the ventricles have filled with blood, they begin to contract, forcing the pulmonary and aortic valves to open. Blood then flows to the pulmonary artery and aorta. The pulmonary artery carries deoxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs and the aorta, which is the body’s largest artery. It’s responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body.
The heart valves work by ensuring that blood flows in a forward direction and doesn’t back up or cause leakage. If you have a heart valve disorder, the valve isn’t able to do this job properly. This can be caused by a leakage of blood, which is called regurgitation, a narrowing of the valve opening, which is called stenosis, or a combination of regurgitation and stenosis.
Some people with a heart valve disorder may not have any symptoms, while others may experience conditions like strokes, heart attacks, and blood clots if the heart valve disorder goes untreated.
A mitral valve prolapse is also called:
It occurs when the mitral valve doesn’t close properly, sometimes causing blood to flow back into the left atrium.
Most people with mitral valve prolapse don’t have symptoms and don’t require treatment as a result. However, symptoms that indicate that treatment is necessary include:
Treatment involves surgery to repair or replace the mitral valve.
Bicuspid aortic valve disease occurs when a person is born with an aortic valve that has two flaps instead of the usual three. In very severe cases, the symptoms of this type of disorder are present at birth. However, some people may go decades without knowing they have this type of disorder. The valve is usually able to function for years without causing symptoms, so most people with bicuspid aortic valve disease aren’t diagnosed until adulthood.
The symptoms may include:
Most people are able to have their aortic valve repaired successfully with surgery.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, 80 percent of people with this type of heart valve disorder will require surgery to repair or replace the valve. This typically happens when they’re in their 30s or 40s.
Valvular stenosis occurs when a valve isn’t able to open completely, which means that not enough blood can flow through the valve. This can occur in any of the heart valves and may be caused by the heart valve thickening or stiffening.
The symptoms may include:
Some people don’t need treatment for valvular stenosis. Other people may need surgery to replace or repair the valve. Depending on the severity of your stenosis and your age, valvuloplasty, which uses a balloon to inflate the valve, may be an option.
Valvular regurgitation may be also called "leaky valve." It occurs when any of the heart valves doesn’t close properly, causing blood to flow backward. The symptoms can include:
The effects of valvular regurgitation vary depending on the person. Some people simply need to have their condition monitored. Others may need to have medication to prevent fluid buildup, while others require valve repair or replacement.
Symptoms of heart valve disorders vary depending on the severity of the disorder. Usually, the presence of symptoms indicates that the disorder is affecting blood flow. Many individuals with mild or moderate heart valve disorders do not experience any symptoms. However, signs and symptoms may include:
There are a number of causes for the different heart valve disorders. The causes may include:
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart valve disorder, your doctor will begin by listening to your heart with a stethoscope. They’ll listen for any heart rate abnormalities that might indicate a problem with your heart valves. Your doctor may also listen to your lungs to determine if there’s fluid buildup and check your body for signs of water retention. These are both signs of heart valve problems.
Other tests that may be used to diagnose heart valve disorders include:
Treatments for heart valve disorders depend on the severity of the disorder and symptoms. Most doctors suggest beginning with conservative treatments. These include:
Medications that are usually prescribed are:
You may need surgery if your symptoms increase in severity. This may include a heart valve repair using:
Valvuloplasty may also be used to treat stenosis. During valvuloplasty, your doctor inserts a small balloon into your heart where it’s inflated slightly. The inflation increases the size of the opening in the valve and then the balloon is removed.
Your outlook will depend on what heart valve disorder you have and how severe it is. Some heart valve disorders only require routine monitoring, while others require surgery.
Talk to your doctor about any symptoms you have that you’re concerned about, and make sure you schedule routine checkups with your doctor. This will make it more likely that your doctor will discover any potentially serious conditions in the early stages.
Written by: Janelle Martel
Medically reviewed on: Jan 27, 2016: Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.