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.
Disease of the heart valves leads to one or both of these two problems:
- Valve stenosis (Narowing) Also called valve narrowing, this occurs when a heart valve doesn’t fully open due to scarred or fused leaflets. The narrowed opening may make the heart work very hard to pump blood through it. All four valves can develop stenosis, 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 properly. As the leak worsens, the heart has to work harder to keep up. Depending on which valve is affected, the condition is called tricuspid regurgitation, pulmonary regurgitation, mitral regurgitation or aortic regurgitation.
The causes of valve disease include congenital valve disease, and acquired valve disease including rheumatic fever, endocarditis, mitral valve prolapse.
Symptoms of heart valve disease do not always relate to the seriousness of the problem. For example, one may have no symptoms at all and have severe valve disease, requiring prompt treatment. Symptoms of heart valve disease can include angina and symptoms of heart failure (CCF).
Diagnosis is usually made on careful clinical examination and with the help of echocardiography, and occasionally with diagnostic angiography.
Treatment of heart valve disease depends on the type and severity of the disease. The goals of treatment are preventing further valve damage, improving symptoms, and repair or replacement of valves when appropriate.