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.
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.
Problems can occur in any of the four valves. These are the common types of heart valve disease:
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 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.
Valve problems may be congenital (present at birth) or acquired (appear later in life).
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
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.
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:
If you have the following conditions, you may be at an increased risk of developing heart valve disease:
There are several noninvasive imaging tests that can be used to diagnose heart valve disease.
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.
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.
Treatment will depend on which heart valve is affected, the type of valve disease and the severity of the disease.
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.
If your heart valve disease is advanced or causing symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery.
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.
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.
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.
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