Heart Valve Diseases

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Published on February 22, 2021

Heart Valve Diseases

Illustration of the human heart and lungs in the chest cavityHeart valve disease is when one or more heart valves don’t work right.  “The valves normally keep blood flow moving forward in one direction and they prevent the backward flow of blood when it leaves each chamber of the heart,” says Aditya Ambegaonkar MD, cardiologist at PIH Health. The heart has four chambers: two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles).

Heart valve disease can occur from two main types of problems:

  • Leakage of the valve (regurgitation). When the valve does not close completely, it causes blood to flow backward through the valve. This reduces forward blood flow and can lead to volume overload in the heart.
  • Narrowing of the valve (stenosis). When the valve opening becomes narrowed, it limits the blood flow out of the ventricles or atria. The heart is forced to pump blood with more force to move blood through the narrowed or stiff (stenotic) valve.

“Heart valves can develop both regurgitation and stenosis at the same time,” says Dr. Ambegaonkar.  In addition, more than one heart valve can be affected at the same time.

Causes of heart valve disease include:

  • Changes in the heart valve structure because of aging
  • Coronary heart disease and heart attack
  • Heart valve infection (endocarditis)
  • Birth defect
  • A sexually transmitted infection (syphilis)
  • An inherited connective tissue disorder that weakens the heart valve tissue (myxomatous degeneration)
  • Radiation such as radiation therapy aimed at the chest wall to treat lymphoma
  • Medicines such as the now-banned diet pill Phen-Fen

You may not have any symptoms if you have mild to moderate heart valve disease. The most common symptoms are:

  • Chest pain
  • Fluttering heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Severe tiredness (fatigue)
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Low or high blood pressure, depending on the type of valve disease
  • Shortness of breath with activity or rest
  • Belly pain because of an enlarged liver (if the tricuspid valve isn’t working correctly)
  • Leg swelling

Symptoms of heart valve disease may look like other health problems. Always seek your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

PIH Health Whittier Hospital is a Five-Star Recipient for Valve Surgery for seven years in a row (2015-2021) by Healthgrades® for its superior clinical outcomes in heart bypass surgery and heart valve surgery.


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The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.