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The condition

Heart valve disease is caused by either wear, disease or damage of one or more of the heart’s valves, affecting the flow of blood through the heart. This can cause such symptoms as breathlessness, chest pain, dizziness and fainting. However, if it is diagnosed and treated early, patients can be returned to a good quality of life.

The human heart is a highly efficient pump with four chambers – two upper (the atria) and two lower (the ventricles). Each of those chambers is closed off by a one-way valve. As the heart expands and contracts 100,000 times a day, the four valves open and close in sequence to keep the blood flowing the right way. When the heart valves are diseased, the pumping action of the heart is impeded.

The main types of heart valve disease are:

Valve Stenosis or obstruction: This is primarily due to age-related hardening (calcification) of the aortic valve leading to progressive narrowing . The valve can either be exceptionally narrow (therefore having a “stenosis”) or have a blockage which limits the blood flow through the valve. This may result in a “back-up” of blood behind the valve as if behind a dam, causing the heart to pump inefficiently or building up blood pressure in the lungs. This is most commonly associated with aortic stenosis or mitral stenosis.

Valve Regurgitation or insufficiency: When a valve fails to close completely, the valve itself can become “leaky,” allowing blood to backwash down through the valve (called “regurgitation”). In addition, the valve may not ever completely move the volume of blood to the next appropriate chamber. This condition includes mitral regurgitation and aortic regurgitation.

Mitral Valve Prolapse: This is a commonly diagnosed form of valve regurgitation. Mitral valve prolapse is estimated to affect as many as 1 in 20 people. In serious cases, the mitral valve can become weakened or stretched, ballooning out and sometimes causing a backflow of blood. Despite its frequency, it usually causes no symptoms, as the amount of blood that leaks back is often slight.

Tricuspid Valve Disease: The tricuspid valve allows for the forward flow of blood from the right atrium to the ventricle but when it is diseased this flow of blood becomes either restricted or flows back though valve in the wrong direction. When the flow of blood is restricted, this is referred to as tricuspid valve stenosis and means that the leaflets of the valve are not opening properly due to stiffening or calcification. When the valve no longer closes properly allowing for the flow of blood back through into the heart’s right atrium, this is referred to as tricuspid valve regurgitation. Click here for more information.

Bicuspid Aortic Valve: Bicuspid aortic valve is a type of abnormality in the aortic valve which is one of four valves in the heart. In a bicuspid aortic valve, the valve has only two small leaflets, instead of the normal three. This condition can be present from birth, often referred to as ‘congenital’. Click here for more information.

Endocarditis: Bacteria and fungal Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocardium). The endocardium becomes inflamed and can cause valve damage. Endocarditis is a very serious infection and needs to be treated immediately as they can cause heart failure and/or strokes. Click here for more information.

What is Heart Valve Disease?

Dr Chris Arden talks valve disease