Heart Valve Diseases
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Heart Valve Diseases

Heart Valve Diseases Types

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The three types of heart valve diseases are regurgitation, stenosis, and atresia. The type of heart valve disease you have depends on which valve is affected and in what way. Heart valve diseases can cause problems in any of the heart’s four valves: the aortic, mitral, pulmonary, and tricuspid valves. For example:

  • A bicuspid aortic valve is an aortic valve that forms with two flaps instead of three.
  • Mitral valve prolapse occurs when the mitral valve flaps bulge back (prolapse) or flop into the left atrium. This may prevent the valve from forming a tight seal.
  • Pulmonary atresia and tricuspid atresia result when the pulmonary or tricuspid valve openings do not form correctly when the heart is developing.

What are heart valves?

The heart valves control blood flow through and out of the heart. When they are working well, your heart valves operate in a smooth sequence to direct blood efficiently through the heart to the lungs and rest of the body. Each valve has a set of flaps that open and close with each heartbeat. The flaps make sure blood flows in the correct direction.

In a heart that has developed normally:

  • The aortic valve lies between the left ventricle and the aorta.
  • The mitral valve lies between the left atria and the left ventricle.
  • The pulmonary valve lies between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery.
  • The tricuspid valve lies between the right atrium and the right ventricle.

Learn more in our How the Heart Works topic.

What are the types of heart valve problems?

Atresia

Atresia is a heart condition that may be present at birth (called a congenital heart defect) or, rarely, acquired later in life. It occurs when a heart valve has no opening at all. Instead, a solid piece of tissue forms between the chambers of the heart, which blocks the flow of blood. There are two main types of heart valve atresia:

  • Pulmonary atresia affects the pulmonary valve. In this condition, blood cannot flow from the heart to the lungs through the pulmonary artery.
  • Tricuspid atresia affects the tricuspid valve. In this condition, blood cannot flow from the right atrium to the right ventricle.

Regurgitation

Regurgitation, also known as backflow or insufficiency, happens when a valve does not seal tightly. This allows blood to leak backward rather than flowing forward through the heart or into an artery. Since some blood flows in the wrong direction, your heart cannot work efficiently to get blood to your body. Regurgitation can happen if valve flaps are not the right size or shape, or if the valve opening is stretched. You may be born with heart valve regurgitation or develop it over time.

Regurgitation is most often due to prolapse in the mitral valve. This occurs when the flaps of the heart valve sag and flop back into the left atrium.

Mitral valve prolapse does not always cause backflow. In fact, most people who have mitral valve prolapse do not experience backflow and never have any related symptoms or problems. However, when backflow occurs, it can get worse over time and lead to complications such as infection and increased pressure in the heart and lungs.

Mitral valve prolapse happens when one or both flaps of the mitral valve flop or bulge back (prolapse) into the upper heart chamber. This can cause a backflow of blood into the heart chamber called regurgitation.
Mitral valve prolapse happens when one or both flaps of the mitral valve flop or bulge back (prolapse) into the upper heart chamber. This can cause a backflow of blood into the heart chamber called regurgitation. Medical Illustration Copyright © 2022 Nucleus Medical Media, All rights reserved

Stenosis

Stenosis describes a valve opening that is too small. The valve may be too narrow, or the flaps may have formed incorrectly before birth. For example, the aortic valve may form with two flaps instead of three. This is called a bicuspid aortic valve. This condition and others that cause stenosis can make it difficult for blood to pass through the valve, so the heart has to work harder to pump enough blood to the body.

A bicuspid aortic valve is a condition in which the aortic valve forms with two flaps (cusps) instead of three. This can lead to a narrowing of the heart valve, called stenosis.
A bicuspid aortic valve is a condition in which the aortic valve forms with two flaps (cusps) instead of three. This can lead to a narrowing of the heart valve, called stenosis. Medical Illustration Copyright © 2022 Nucleus Medical Media, All rights reserved.

Sometimes a valve has more than one problem or more than one valve is affected. Any of these problems can make your heart work harder and affect its ability to pump blood. If a valve condition is left untreated, it can get worse over time, putting you at risk for serious problems such as heart failure or stroke.

Learn the symptoms and when to go to the doctor if you think you may have a heart valve problem.

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