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Heart Valve Disease

Heart Valve Problems

Heart valves can have three basic kinds of problems: regurgitation, stenosis, and atresia.

Regurgitation, or backflow, occurs when a valve doesn't close tightly. Blood leaks back into the chambers rather than flowing forward through the heart or into an artery.

In the United States, regurgitation is most often due to prolapse. "Prolapse" is when the flaps of the valve flop or bulge back into an upper heart chamber during a heartbeat. Prolapse mainly affects the mitral valve.

Stenosis occurs when the flaps of a valve thicken, stiffen, or fuse together. This prevents the heart valve from fully opening. As a result, not enough blood flows through the valve. Some valves can have both stenosis and backflow problems.

Atresia occurs when a heart valve lacks an opening for blood to pass through.

You can be born with heart valve disease, or you can acquire it later in life. Heart valve disease that develops before birth is called congenital heart valve disease. Congenital heart valve disease can occur alone or with other congenital heart defects.

Congenital heart valve disease usually involves pulmonary or aortic valves that don't form properly. These valves may not have enough tissue flaps, they may be the wrong size or shape, or they may lack an opening through which blood can flow properly.

Acquired heart valve disease usually involves the aortic or mitral valve. Although the valve is normal at first, disease can cause problems to develop over time.

Both congenital and acquired heart valve disease can cause stenosis or backflow.

Outlook

Many people have heart valve defects or disease but don't have symptoms. For some people, the condition mostly stays the same throughout their lives and doesn't cause any problems.

For other people, the condition slowly worsens until symptoms develop. If not treated, advanced heart valve disease can cause heart failure, stroke, blood clots, or sudden death due to sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

Currently, no medicines can cure heart valve disease. However, lifestyle changes and medicines can relieve many of the symptoms and problems linked to heart valve disease.

These treatments also can lower your risk of developing a life-threatening condition, such as stroke or SCA. Eventually, you may need to have your faulty heart valve repaired or replaced.

Some types of congenital heart valve disease are so severe that the valve is repaired or replaced during infancy, childhood, or even before birth. Other types may not cause problems until you're middle-aged or older, if at all.


Reference: The Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute.

Last Updated: April 24, 2017