A leaky heart valve may go unnoticed because frequently, a leaky heart valve causes no symptoms.
A leaky heart valve may go unnoticed because frequently, a leaky heart valve causes no symptoms.

A leaky heart valve may go unnoticed because frequently, a leaky heart valve causes no symptoms. 

If a heart valve leak is severe, it can lead to symptoms such as breathlessness and cause the heart to fail. The symptoms of congestive heart failure mainly include:

What is a leaky heart valve?

There are four valves in the heart:

The valves consist of flaps that open and close, allowing the blood to flow through the chambers in one direction and prevent backflow. Each valve has three flaps, except the mitral valve that has two. Any of the valves in the heart can become leaky, meaning when the heart squeezes and tries to pump the blood forward, some of the blood leaks backward through the valve. A leaky heart valve is also called valve regurgitation.

How is a leaky heart valve diagnosed?

A doctor usually diagnoses a leaky heart valve by

What are the signs and symptoms of a leaky heart valve?

Many healthy people may have one or more valves that are slightly leaky, which do not cause any problems. The severity of the symptoms depends on the severity of the heart valve leak.

If heart valve leak is severe, it can affect the flow of blood through the heart causing the symptoms of congestive heart failure, which include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Leg swelling or puffiness over the face
  • Failure to thrive (children)
  • Giddiness
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fatigue

What causes leaky heart valves?

The causes of leaky heart valves vary with each heart valve.

Causes of a leaky aortic valve include:

Causes of a leaky mitral valve include:

Causes of a leaky tricuspid valve:

Many healthy adults may have a slightly leaky tricuspid valve, which usually causes no problems and often does not require treatment or follow-up. One of the main causes of tricuspid valve leak is pulmonary hypertension.

How is leaky heart valve treated?

For mild heart valve leakage, treatment is usually not required. The doctor may suggest observation and follow-up. Patients who are symptomatic may be prescribed medication. Heart surgery to repair or replace the leaky valve may be advised for severe leakage or regurgitation. All patients with asymptomatic and symptomatic leaky heart valves would be advised lifestyle modifications, which would be beneficial to the heart and overall health. 

Lifestyle modifications include:

  • Regular exercise such as walking or yoga; before engaging in rigorous exercise or sports, it is advised to consult a doctor
  • Avoiding smoking 
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption 
  • Avoiding recreational drugs 
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Maintaining healthy body weight (body mass index [BMI] below 25)

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Medically Reviewed on 11/10/2020
References
https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-valve-problems-and-disease/heart-valve-problems-and-causes/problem-heart-valve-regurgitation