Heart valve disease may be something you are born with or develop overtime.
Acquired Valve Diseases
Acquired heart valve disease means you were born with normal heart valves, but problems developed over time as a result of family history or a history of illness or aging. Acquired valve diseases more commonly affect the aortic or mitral valves.
Aortic Valve Disease
The aortic valve sits between the lower left chamber of your heart, called the left ventricle, and major blood vessel called the aorta. The aorta is a canal that releases oxygen rich blood from the heart to nourish your body. The aortic valve acts like a gatekeeper. It opens to release blood from the left ventricle and closes to keep any of the blood from washing backward.
Problems with the aortic valve can include:
- Aortic Valve Regurgitation - The valve’s tissue flaps (leaflets), which control the flow and direction of the blood, do not fully close or the edges do not fully meet, which causes blood to leak back into the heart.
- Aortic Valve Stenosis - The leaflets cannot open fully to allow enough blood to flow through.
One way to understand regurgitation and stenosis is to think of a door. A door opens one way and closes very firmly in the other. That’s how a healthy valve works, too. But when a valve doesn’t close firmly, blood can leak through (regurgitation). And, if the valves get stuck, like hinges in a door can over time, the blood has trouble getting through (stenosis).
Mitral Valve Disease
The mitral valve is one of four valves that regulate blood flow through the heart. More specifically, the mitral valve controls flow from the left upper chamber of your heart (the left atrium) to the left lower chamber (the left ventricle). In a healthy heart, once the blood flows to the left ventricle, the mitral valve seals shut so that when the left ventricle contracts, the blood is pumped out only through the aortic valve out to the body, as it should be, and cannot flow back into the left atrium.
Problems with the mitral valve include:
- Mitral Valve Regurgitation - the flaps of the mitral valve, called leaflets, no longer seal properly in between heartbeats and allow blood to leak ‘backwards’ to the left atrium.
- Mitral Valve Stenosis - the mitral valve narrows, limiting blood flow to the left lower chamber of the heart.
Congenital Valve Disease
Congenital heart valve abnormalties may result from valves the do not fully form or are the wrong size or shape. This may restrict blood flow or result in blood flow washing back into the wrong chamber.
The tricuspid valve lies between the heart’s upper right chamber, called the right atrium, and the lower right chamber, called the right ventricle. If this valve didn’t develop properly before you were born, it may not have an opening to allow blood returning from your body to be pumped to your lungs to collect oxygen.
The pulmonary valve lies between your right ventricle and the pulmonary artery that leads to your lungs. If this valve didn’t form properly before you were born or if there is a hole between the two bottom chambers of your heart, you may not have a direct connection between the heart and the lung’s blood vessels.
If you are born with a pulmonary valve that is thick, the opening in the valve is too narrow to all blood to flow normally from the heart through the valve and to the lungs.