• Heart Valve Problems


    The heart's valves regulate the direction and flow of the blood that replenishes the oxygen supply throughout your body. But when the valves are defective or don't work the way they should, it can put your heart and other organs at risk. Click here to go to a video that shows how the hearts valves are supposed to work and what can sometimes go wrong.

    While you go about your business each day, your heart is working hard behind the scenes to keep you alive and active. The heart is an amazing muscle that moves blood to and from the heart and lungs, and throughout your body, with the help of four valves (the tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral, and aortic) that open and close with each beat of your heart, controlling the direction of blood flow.

    Click here to learn more about the structure of the heart, its valves, and how they work.

    Unfortunately, even the most impressive structures, such as the heart, can have problems. Valves don’t always work the way they should. If a valve is not formed properly from birth (congenital valve disease) or if it is damaged at some point after birth from age or disease (acquired valve disease), the vital organs, such as the brain and kidneys, may not get the oxygen-rich blood they need to function. Heart valve disease (sometimes called valvular heart disease) can strain the heart, too. The heart has to work harder to compensate for the faulty valve, which can weaken the heart and increase the risk of heart failure (a condition where the heart doesn’t fill up with enough blood or pump enough blood to supply the body with the oxygen and nutrients that it needs) or sudden cardiac arrest (when the heart stops beating). A heart valve problem can also increase the risk of blood clots, which can cause a stroke.

      Valve disease is sometimes referred to more generally as structural heart disease because valves are an important part of the make-up of the heart. The heart is a pump - a structure that needs valves to function properly -to keep blood flowing in the right direction.
      Sometimes people think valve disease is the same as coronary heart disease because valves and arteries are both involved in blood flow. Valves control blood flow through the heart; coronary arteries bring blood flow to the heart. But valve disease actually affects the structure and function of your heart. Valves are part of the heart - they keep blood flowing smoothly in the right direction. Heart disease, on the other hand, is a disease process that affects the heart. It refers to blockages or narrowing of the arteries - a process that over time restricts blood flow to the heart.

    Valve disease symptoms may be similar to symptoms of other serious medical conditions. One of the most common symptoms of valve disease, shortness of breath, can also be a symptom of a heart attack or a blood clot in the lung. If you think you might have a serious medical condition with your heart or lungs, don’t take a chance. 

    Call 911.

      Remember to tell your dentist and doctors about your heart valve disease. Certain procedures may increase your risk of a serious condition called endocarditis, an infection on the valves of the heart that can be prevented by taking antibiotics in advance.

    Recognizing a Valve Problem

    Some heart valve problems are never detected because they do not cause symptoms or affect the quality of your life in any significant way. But, according to the American Heart Association, about 5 million Americans each year learn that they have a heart valve problem.

    Valve problems often get worse after the symptoms start. If it turns out that your symptoms are signaling a valve problem, your doctor will want to see you on a regular basis to monitor your condition. If the problem becomes more severe, it may require treatment, such as medication, surgery, or other medical procedures to repair or replace the valve.

    Whether your valve problem was just diagnosed or if you have been monitoring it or treating it for some time, do your best to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as avoiding infection, taking your medications, eating right, and exercising. It may help you to feel better.

    Click here for more information on recommended lifestyle changes for people with valve disease.

    Getting Help

    If you have been diagnosed with a heart valve problem or you are concerned that you or someone in your family might have a heart valve problem, talk with your doctor. Ask questions. Download Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Heart Valve Problems and take it with you to your next appointment. You’ll also find a more detailed explanation of heart valve problems in each of the following articles on this site:

    • Symptoms. Some people with valve problems experience fatigue, chest pain, or shortness of breath, but others do not. In either case it is important to talk with your doctor about your valve problem and how it could affect your overall health. Learn more...
    • Types and Causes. Some people are born with one or more valves that didn’t form properly, while others develop a valve problem as they age. These problems usually occur when the valve’s tissue flaps or leaflets that regulate the flow of blood through the heart are not opening or closing the way they should.  Learn more…
    • Diagnosis. Your doctor will examine you, review your medical history, and recommend tests if he or she believes you might have a valve problem. Imaging technology is one of the most common tools for examining the heart and the valves. Learn more…
    • Treatment. Heart valve problems can be treated in many different ways. Lifestyle changes and medications may help manage symptoms from valve disease. For others, repair or replacement of the heart valves may be necessary. Learn more…
    • Resources and Support. If you have a valve problem it’s very important to get appropriate help and treatment. Online resources are available to help you understand valve disease and its treatment. Learn more…

    Work with your doctor to learn as much as you can about the nature and severity of your heart valve problem so that together you can make the best possible treatment decisions.