Leaky Heart Valve
A leaky heart valve might go unnoticed. Or it could cause health problems that could be either minor or serious. How serious a leaky heart valve is depends on how much it interferes with normal blood flow through the heart. Treatments include medicines, surgical repair, or surgical replacement of the leaky valve. Observation over time for changes is the most common approach to a leaky heart valve.
What Is a Leaky Heart Valve?
The heart has four valves. They include:
- tricuspid valve
- pulmonic valve
- mitral valve
- aortic valve
The valves consist of flaps that open to let blood flow in one direction as it moves through the chambers of the heart. Then the valves close to keep blood from flowing backwards into the chamber it just left. Except the mitral valve, each valve typically has three flaps. The mitral valve has two flaps.
Any of the four valves can become leaky. This means that just after the heart squeezes and pumps blood forward, some blood will leak backward through the valve. Leaking through the valve is also called valve regurgitation.
How Is a Leaky Heart Valve Diagnosed?
A doctor usually diagnoses a leaky heart valve by:
- Listening to the heart with a stethoscope for abnormal sounds such as a heart murmur
- Looking at the results of a heart ultrasound, also called an echocardiogram
A person’s description of symptoms along with the physical exam and echocardiogram can determine how serious a leaky heart valve is.
Symptoms of a Leaky Heart Valve
Frequently, a leaky heart valve causes no symptoms. Many healthy people have one or more valves that are slightly leaky.
If the heart valve leak is severe, it may impair the forward flow of blood. This can cause symptoms of congestive heart failure, which include:
- Shortness of breath, especially with exertion or when lying flat
- Leg swelling or fluid retention elsewhere in the body
Other symptoms of a leaky heart valve may include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Heart fluttering or palpitations
Even when there is significant valve regurgitation, there may be no symptoms.
Leaky Heart Valve and Aortic Regurgitation
Causes of a leaky aortic valve include:
Many people with aortic regurgitation only require observation over time.
People with symptoms due to severe aortic valve regurgitation may benefit from certain blood pressure medicines called vasodilators. Other drug treatments for congestive heart failure, such as diuretics, can be helpful in severe aortic regurgitation.
When aortic regurgitation is severe, surgery is sometimes the recommended treatment. A surgeon will usually replace or repair the leaking aortic valve.