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Heart valve disease: An overview
Heart valve disease happens when one or more of the heart's four valves isn't working right.
Some people have heart valve disease that remains stable throughout their life and doesn't cause problems. But, for others, the problem slowly worsens. Left untreated, later-stage heart valve disease can lead to heart failure, stroke, blood clots or death due to sudden cardiac arrest.
Keep scrolling to learn more about the different types of heart valve disease.
HOW YOUR HEART VALVES WORK:
Your blood is supposed to flow one way through your heart. It enters through the top chambers, flows down to the bottom chambers and out to the rest of your body. This happens with every heartbeat. The heart valves are like gates that direct the traffic. They open—and quickly close—to let the blood keep flowing forward to its next destination.
Heart valve disease can stop that from happening.
The two main problems that can happen when heart valves are diseased or damaged are regurgitation and stenosis. It's possible for a valve to have both of these problems.
This occurs when a valve doesn't close tightly. Blood leaks back into the chambers instead of flowing forward through or out of the heart. The heart has to work harder to pump the backflow. Over time, this can cause the overworked heart muscle to thicken. Backflow can also cause a buildup of fluid in the lungs.
Stenosis occurs when the flaps of a valve thicken, stiffen or fuse together. Stenosis can prevent a heart valve from opening all the way, which leads to not enough blood flowing through the valve.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF HEART VALVE DISEASE:
Many people have heart valve disease without any symptoms.
When signs and symptoms occur, they commonly include:
- A heart murmur or unusual heartbeat. This is the main sign of heart valve disease.
- Shortness of breath during activity or when lying down.
- Extreme exhaustion or weakness.
- Dizziness or fainting.
- Fluttering or racing heartbeat.
TREATING HEART VALVE DISEASE:
No medicines can cure heart valve disease. But medicines and lifestyle changes can treat many of its symptoms and complications. And if heart valve disease worsens, surgery to replace or repair the heart valve can be effective.
If you have heart valve disease, your doctor will be able to help you decide on the treatment plan that's right for you.
How does your heart work?
Learn more about the structure of your heart and how it works.
Sources: American College of Cardiology; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- American College of Cardiology. "Understanding Heart Valve Disease." https://www.cardiosmart.org/news/2015/6/understanding-heart-valve-disease.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "How the Heart Works." https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart/anatomy.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "What Are Heart Valve Diseases?" https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-valve-diseases.