Heart Valve Diseases
Heart Valve Diseases

Heart Valve Diseases Causes and Risk Factors

What causes heart valve diseases?

Your heart has four valves that open and close to allow blood to flow through. Heart valve diseases develop when these valves do not work properly. Problems with your heart valves can either be present at birth or be acquired over time.

To understand heart valve diseases, it helps to understand how the heart works.

Heart valve diseases at birth

Congenital heart valve diseases develop before a baby is born, because of problems in the way the heart forms. These valve conditions can occur alone or along with other congenital heart defects.

Valve diseases seen at birth may range from mild problems to life-threatening conditions in which blood flow is blocked because no heart valve ever formed (atresia). More commonly, a valve is too narrow and does not let enough blood flow through it (stenosis). Or, valve flaps that are the wrong size or shape cause the valve to leak (regurgitation).

Some congenital heart valve diseases are inherited , which means the heart valve defect is caused by specific genes  that are passed to a child from the parents. For example, bicuspid aortic valve is a type of inherited heart valve disease that can cause stenosis.

Acquired heart valve diseases

You may develop heart valve disease as you age, or because of medicine you take or a procedure you have.

Risk factors include:

  • Age: Older age can be a risk factor, especially if your lifestyle habits also raise your risk.
  • Family history: Mitral valve prolapse and bicuspid aortic valve problems can run in families. A family history of early coronary heart disease can also raise your risk of developing a heart valve disease.
  • Lifestyle habits: Risk factors for other types of heart disease may put you at risk for heart valve diseases, too. These include a lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, smoking, and obesity.
  • Medical devices: Defibrillators and pacemakers can rub against a valve and create scar tissue or stimulate the heart to beat out of rhythm, which can stretch a heart valve.
  • Other conditions: High blood pressure, diabetes,  autoimmune disorders such as lupus, and other heart conditions can raise your risk of heart valve diseases.
  • Radiation treatment for cancer can cause issues such as thickening and narrowing of heart valves.
  • Sex: At all ages, men are more likely than women to have certain heart valve conditions, such as aortic stenosis.

Research for your health

Your family history and the genes you inherit can increase your risk of developing a heart valve disease. NHLBI-supported researchers are investigating specific genes that can mutate and lead to heart valve defects such as bicuspid aortic valve syndrome.


Can heart valve diseases be prevented?

You can take steps to help prevent some causes of congenital heart valve disease, although not all are preventable. Talk to your doctor about any vitamins you may need and how to avoid infections such as rubella during pregnancy.  

Your doctor may also talk to you about steps you can take to lower your risk for acquired heart valve diseases.

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