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Heart Valve Disease

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According to the American Heart Association, about 5 million Americans are diagnosed with heart valve disease each year.

What Is Heart Valve Disease?

Heart valve disease occurs when the heart valves do not work the way they should.

Heart Halves

How Do Heart Valves Work?

Your heart valves lie at the exit of each of your four heart chambers and maintain one-way blood flow through your heart. The four heart valves make sure that blood always flows freely in a forward direction and that there is no backward leakage.

Blood flows from your right and left atria into your ventricles through the open tricuspid and mitral valves.

When the ventricles are full, the tricuspid and mitral valves shut. This prevents blood from flowing backward into the atria while the ventricles contract.

As the ventricles begin to contract, the pulmonic and aortic valves are forced open and blood is pumped out of the ventricles. Blood from the right ventricle passes through the open pulmonic valve into the pulmonary artery, and blood from the left ventricle passes through the open aortic valve into the aorta and the rest of the body.

When the ventricles finish contracting and begin to relax, the aortic and pulmonic valves shut. These valves prevent blood from flowing back into the ventricles.

This pattern is repeated over and over with each heartbeat, causing blood to flow continuously to the heart, lungs, and body.

What Are the Types of Heart Valve Disease?

There are several types of heart valve disease:

  • Valvular stenosis. This occurs when a heart valve doesn't fully open due to stiff or fused leaflets. The narrowed opening may make the heart work very hard to pump blood through it. This can lead to heart failure and other symptoms (see below). All four valves can develop stenosis; the conditions are called tricuspid stenosis, pulmonic stenosis, mitral stenosis, or aortic stenosis.
  • Valvular insufficiency. Also called regurgitation, incompetence, or "leaky valve," this occurs when a valve does not close tightly. If the valves do not seal, some blood will leak backwards across the valve. As the leak worsens, the heart has to work harder to make up for the leaky valve, and less blood may flow to the rest of the body. Depending on which valve is affected, the condition is called tricuspid regurgitation, pulmonary regurgitation, mitral regurgitation, or aortic regurgitation.

 

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