At Memorial Hermann Health System, we are dedicated to diagnosing, treating and managing a wide range of cardiac conditions with a patient-centered approach. Our nationally recognized specialists are committed to a comprehensive style of care to deliver the best possible outcomes and patient experience.

According to the American Heart Association, more than 5 million Americans are diagnosed with heart valve disease each year. Problems with the heart valves can lead to many other complications including blood clots, heart failure, stroke and death.

What Is Heart Valve Disease?

Heart valve disease, also called valvular heart disease, occurs when one or more of the four heart valves do not function correctly.

Your heart has four valves that control and maintain the flow of blood. The four valves are: mitral, aortic, tricuspid and pulmonic. The valves have tissue leaflets that open and close each time your heart beats. The opening and closing of the leaflets directs blood flow in the right direction so it can reach the rest of your body.

When the valves do not open or close correctly, the blood flow is disrupted. This is known as heart valve disease.

Types of Heart Valve Problems

Problems can occur in any of the four valves. These are the common types of heart valve disease: 

Regurgitation

Also called backflow, regurgitation occurs when a heart valve does not close tightly. Because the valve stays open, the blood flows back into the other heart chambers instead of flowing forward through the heart to reach the rest of your body. If left untreated, regurgitation can lead to an enlargement of the left ventricular pumping chamber, and the heart may become unable to pump efficiently. Regurgitation is frequently caused by a condition called mitral valve prolapse, or by damage to the heart valve, an infection of the aortic valve or enlargement of the aorta.

Stenosis

Stenosis occurs when the leaflets of a valve thicken, stiffen or fuse together, preventing the heart valve from fully opening. When this happens, blood flow through the valve is restricted.

Causes of Heart Valve Disease

Valve problems may be congenital (present at birth) or acquired (appear later in life).  

Congenital Heart Valve Disease

This type of disease occurs when valves do not form properly, and is present at birth. The valves may not have enough tissue flaps, or they may be the wrong size or shape. Sometimes the valves have atresia, which occurs when the valve does not have an opening for blood to pass through

Acquired Heart Valve Disease 

This type of disease occurs later in life, usually as a result of an infection, heart attack, heart disease or other damage. It often occurs in the mitral aortic valve.

Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease

Sometimes heart valve disease develops quickly, and for other patients it may take a long time to progress. When the disease develops slowly, you may not experience symptoms until the condition is advanced. If heart valve disease develops quickly, the following symptoms are common:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart murmur
  • Swelling of the abdomen, ankles or feet

Risk Factors for Heart Valve Disease

If you have the following conditions, you may be at an increased risk of developing heart valve disease:

  • Congenital (present at birth) heart condition
  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • History of infections that affect the heart

How is Heart Valve Disease Diagnosed?

There are several noninvasive imaging tests that can be used to diagnose heart valve disease.

Echocardiogram

This test uses sound waves to create pictures of your heart. Your doctor can view the shape and size of your heart, the structure of the valves and chambers, and see how it beats and pumps blood.

Cardiac MRI

A cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test uses a powerful magnet and radio signals to create images of the heart. It shows a highly detailed view of the structure and function of the heart and its vessels.

What is the Treatment for Heart Valve Disease?

Treatment will depend on which heart valve is affected, the type of valve disease and the severity of the disease.

Lifestyle Changes

Your doctor may suggest making changes to your daily habits, while continuing to monitor your heart condition with regular follow-up appointments. Healthy habits like eating a balanced diet, limiting alcohol intake, quitting smoking and getting regular exercise are important. You should also take any medications your doctor prescribes.

Surgery

If your heart valve disease is advanced or causing symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Heart Valve Repair

With a surgical repair, your heart valve is preserved and function is improved. Your surgeon can separate valve flaps that have fused together, replace the tissue that supports the valve, remove excess valve tissue to allow it to close tightly, or close holes in a valve. Sometimes surgeons implant an artificial ring to tighten and reinforce the valve.

Heart Valve Replacement 

If it is not possible to repair the valve your surgeon may recommend heart valve replacement. The damaged valve is remove and replaced with an artificial valve, which can either be mechanical or made from either human or animal heart tissue. There are benefits and risks to both types of valve replacement, and you can discuss the options with your doctor.

Scheduling an Appointment

Memorial Hermann-affiliated heart and vascular specialists are highly experienced in treating and managing heart valve disease. To learn more, visit Find a Doctor to schedule an appointment.

Contact Us

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