The human heart has 4 valves – the mitral, tricuspid, aortic and pulmonary valves. You can read more about heart valves here.
The function of each of these valves is the allow blood to flow from one chamber to another in one direction.
However, in certain situations, there can be either narrowing of the valve or leaking of the valve. In some cases, the valve structure may be defective. Below is a short list of conditions that may be seen.
1. Mitral valve disease
2. Tricuspid valve disease
The tricuspid valve separates the right atrium and right ventricle. Narrowing of the valve is called tricuspid stenosis, while leaking of the valve is called tricuspid regurgitation.
3. Aortic valve disease
The aortic valve is present at the start of the aorta, and allows blood to flow from the left ventricle to the rest of the body. A narrowed aortic valve is called aortic stenosis while a leaking aortic valve is called aortic regurgitation.
4. Pulmonary valve
The pulmonary valve is present in the right heart, and separates the right ventricle from the pulmonary artery. Narrowing of the pulmonary artery is called pulmonary stenosis, while leaking of the pulmonary valve is called pulmonary regurgitation.
What are the causes of heart valve disease?
While we have discussed the causes of heart valve disease under different subheadings elsewhere on this website, it is worthwhile knowing what the common causes of heart problems are. The main causes include:
- Rheumatic fever as a child
- Damage to the valves following a heart attack
- Age related changes
- A birth defect (being born with a defective heart valve)
- Infection of the heart valve (called endocarditis)
- Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
The problem with heart valve disease
Any disease that affects the heart valves can result in 2 possible problems.
1. If the valve is narrowed or ‘stenosed’, it does not open fully. This means insufficient blood flows through the valve. In order for more blood to flow, the heart starts to beat a lot harder and with a lot more effort. This can place a great deal of stress on the heart. Over time, this could affect the function of the heart.
2. If the valve is leaking because it is not closing properly, excessive amount of blood can leak back into a chamber. Leaking of a valve is called regurgitation. Regurgitation can place a great deal of stress on the heart, and can make it weak over time.
A significant problem with having valvular heart disease is that it can start to cause clinical symptoms. Some of these symptoms can affect a patient’s life to a great extent. Common symptoms include
- Breathing difficulty
- Chest pain
- Light headedness
Some may just feel generally unwell.
Diagnosis of heart valve disease
It is possible to diagnose heart disease by visiting a doctor and undergoing certain tests. Your doctor may hear an additional sound when examining your heart. This sound is called a ‘murmur’. The presence of a murmur means that the blood is flowing in a manner different to normal. However, in some individuals, the presence of a murmur can be a normal phenomenon. These murmurs are called ‘innocent murmurs’.
Treating heart valve disease
If you are diagnosed with heart valve disease, you may not need any treatment if you are not experiencing any symptoms. If treatment is needed, either medicines or surgical treatments may be necessary. The choice of treatment depends on how bad the problem is and what effect it is having on your heart.
What you can do
If you have valvular heart disease, it is important for you to know the facts. If you are aware of what condition you have, then the links below should provide you with information that can help.
- Mitral stenosis – Click here
- Mitral regurgitation – Click here
- Aortic stenosis – Click here
- Aortic regurgitation – Click here
- Tricuspid regurgitation – Click here
- Tricuspid stenosis – Click here
- Pulmonary stenosis – Click here
- Pulmonary regurgitation – Click here