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According to the American Heart Association, about 5 million Americans are diagnosed with valvular heart disease each year.
What Is Valvular Heart Disease?
Heart valve disease occurs when your heart's valves do not work the way they should.
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 mitral and tricuspid valves.
When the ventricles are full, the mitral and tricuspid valves shut. This prevents blood from flowing backward into the atria while the ventricles contract (squeeze).
As the ventricles begin to contract, the pulmonic and aortic valves are forced open and blood is pumped out of the ventricles through the open valves into the pulmonary artery toward the lungs, the aorta, and the body.
When the ventricles finish contracting and begin to relax, the aortic and pulmonic valves snap shut. These valves prevent blood from flowing back into the ventricles.
This pattern is repeated over and over, causing blood to flow continuously to the heart, lungs and body.
What Are the Types of Valve Disease?
There are several types of valve disease:
- Valvular stenosis. This occurs when a valve opening is smaller than normal 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 be stenotic (hardened, restricting blood flow); 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 conditioned is called tricuspid regurgitation, pulmonary regurgitation, mitral regurgitation or aortic regurgitation.