Common heart valve conditions

The heart controls blood flow throughout the body via four valves — the mitral, tricuspid, aortic and pulmonary.

  • The mitral and tricuspid valves control blood flow within the upper and lower heart chambers (used to collect and eject blood).
  • The aortic valve regulates blood flow between the heart and the aorta (the main artery of the body).
  • The pulmonary valve controls blood flow between the heart and lungs.

When the heart valves become damaged and don’t function properly, it can be serious. If you experience the following symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Common symptoms of a heart valve conditions include:

  • Abnormal pulse
  • Chest pain (often increasing with activity)
  • Cough
  • Difficulty or fast breathing
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Neck or abdominal discomfort
  • Palpitations (rapid, noticeable heart beats)
  • Swelling of the abdomen, feet or ankles
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness

Below are common conditions that affect the heart valves. Learn how the experts at the Emory Structural Heart & Valve Center can help treat these heart and heart valve conditions.

Aortic stenosis and regurgitation

These conditions affect the aortic valve, causing the valve to narrow (stenosis) or not close completely, causing a backup of blood flow into the heart (regurgitation). These conditions cause the heart muscle to pump harder and decrease blood flow, which can lead to heart failure. These conditions most often in occur in those older than 70. However, in patients with other heart conditions, they can occur much earlier.

Mitral valve stenosis and regurgitation

These conditions affect the mitral valve and cause it to narrow (stenosis) or to not close completely, causing a backflow of blood in the valve and possibly to the lungs (regurgitation). These conditions can cause the heart muscle to pump harder and blood flow to the body to decrease, which can lead to heart failure.

Mitral valve stenosis most often occurs in adults with rheumatic fever (often associated with untreated strep throat or scarlet fever), the formation of calcium deposits around the mitral valve, radiation treatment in the chest or the use of some medications. Mitral valve regurgitation can develop or worsen due to aging or as a result of rheumatic fever, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) or endocarditis (inflammation of the lining inside the heart), among other conditions.

Pulmonary valve stenosis and regurgitation

These conditions affect the pulmonary valve, causing it to narrow (stenosis) or to not close completely, allowing blood to flow backward into the heart (regurgitation). These conditions can cause the heart to work harder, leading to damage of the muscle and possibly heart failure. Pulmonary valve regurgitation can also cause enlargement in the right ventricle, one of the four chambers of the heart.

Pulmonary valve stenosis most often occurs as a result of a congenital defect (present from birth), but can also be caused by rheumatic fever (often associated with untreated strep throat or scarlet fever) or endocarditis (inflammation of the lining inside the heart), among other conditions.

Tricuspid valve stenosis and regurgitation

These conditions affect the tricuspid valve, causing it to narrow (stenosis) or to not close entirely, allowing blood to leak backward into the heart (regurgitation). Tricuspid valve disorders are most commonly a result of rheumatic fever (often associated with untreated strep throat or scarlet fever). Other less common causes may include congenital conditions (present at birth), rheumatoid arthritis or radiation therapy in the chest.

Septal defects

A wall called the septum separates the left and right side of the heart. Some people are born with a hole in either the upper septum (atrial septal defect) or the lower septum (ventricular septal defect). When these defects are present, oxygen-rich blood from the lungs may mix with oxygen-poor blood returning from the body.

Patent foramen ovale

Foramen ovales are holes in a fetus’ heart that are used before birth to transfer oxygenated blood from the umbilical cord to the unborn child. Soon after birth, this hole generally closes, but in about 20 percent of people, it does not close completely. This remaining opening is called a patent foramen ovale (PFO). Many PFOs are relatively small and do not cause significant problems, but in some people, the opening is larger and can provide a pathway for blood clots to more easily reach the brain and cause a stroke. In these cases, treatment may be necessary to correct the defect.

Paravalvular Leak

A paravalvular leak is an opening that forms on the outer edge of a prosthetic (artificial) valve where it is secured to the heart tissue. Paravalvular leaks may occur at the site of a loose or broken suture (stitches), which can result from endocarditis (inflammation of the lining inside the heart) or poor valve placement.

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