A damaged heart valve is like a broken doorway.
If you’re like most people, you’re not generally thinking about your heart, much less the valves within it. Not, at least, until they start giving you trouble. Here’s a quick primer from the experts at St. Luke’s University Health Network on what your heart valves do, why they’re important, and how they’re fixed, if it becomes necessary.
First, their function: there are four valves in your heart, corresponding to the four chambers. The valves open and close to prevent blood from coming into, or allow blood to flow through to, each chamber. To provide one specific example, the mitral valve closes off the upper left (left atrium) chamber, which collects oxygen-rich blood coming from the lungs; it opens to allow the blood to pass to the lower left side (left ventricle). If this sounds complicated, think of valves as doorways that open and close to allow people through according to the number that can fit in the next room.
Valves are important because they allow and deny access to blood flowing through your heart; they are responsible for correctly shepherding this flow of nutrients and oxygen through your body.
These critical components can become weakened through disease or age; some valves are weak from genetic conditions. When they’re damaged, they can allow too little or too much blood to flow through, or “leak.” These conditions are damaging to your heart, and therefore to your entire body. But medical and surgical options are available for treating damaged valves, and your doctor will know the best course for you.