Heart Valve Disease

Heart Valve Disease

What is it?

Blood is pumped through the heart in one direction. Heart valves are vital to this one-way blood flow, opening and closing with each heartbeat. Pressure changes behind and in front of the valves allowing them to open at just the right time and close in time to prevent blood from flowing back in.

The four valves (tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral and aortic) make sure that the blood always flows freely in a forward direction. Continual patterns are repeated over and over, enabling blood to flow continuously to the heart, lungs and body. Two problems can disrupt blood flow through the valves: regurgitation and stenosis.

Regurgency, also called incompetent or leaky valve, occurs when a valve doesn’t close properly and blood leaks backwards instead of moving forward in the proper one-way flow. If too much blood flows backward, only a small amount can travel forward to other organs.

Stenosis occurs when a valve opening is smaller than normal due to stiff, thick or fused leaflets. The leaflets do not open wide enough and only a small amount of blood flows through the valve. Because the valve is narrower, the heart must work harder to move blood through the body.

Causes, Symptoms and Risk Factors

Heart valve disease can be a congenital defect found at birth or developed as a result of the conditions:

Symptoms of heart valve disease depend on the severity and underlying heart problems which may be present. Symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Discomfort in chest
  • Edema (swelling in the leg(s), foot (feet), or abdomen)
  • Rapid weight gain

If valve disease is present, there is risk for developing endocarditis. This risk exists even if the valve is repaired or replaced through surgery.

Our Services (Tests, Procedures and Treatments)

Diagnostic testing and procedures are the first step in establishing a treatment strategy. Doctors can listen for the distinct sounds or murmurs of valve disease. Doctors may order tests or perform the following procedures:

Treatment for heart valve disease depends on the type and severity. Treatment may not be needed or medicines may mitigate the pain of symptoms but they cannot cure valve disease. If conditions worsen or become hard to control and medicine is no longer working, interventional surgery to repair or replace the valve(s) may be necessary.

St. Luke's Heart & Vascular