Heart valve disease occurs if one of more of your heart valves doesn't work properly. The heart consists of four chambers - two atria (upper chambers) and two ventricles (lower chambers). There is a valve through which blood passes before leaving each
chamber of the heart. The valves prevent the backward flow of blood. (They act as one-way inlets of blood on one side of a ventricle and one-way outlets of blood on the other side of a ventricle.) The four heart valves include the following:
- mitral valve: located between the left atrium and the left ventricle
- aortic valve: located between the left ventricle and the aorta
- tricuspid valve: located between the right atrium and the right ventricle
- pulmonary valve: located between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery
As the heart muscle contracts and relaxes, the valves open and close, letting blood flow into the ventricles and out to the body at alternate times. The following is an illustration of the valves of the heart:
Normal functionality in the left ventricle:
- After the left ventricle relaxes, the aortic valve closes and the mitral valve opens to allow blood to flow from the left atrium into the left ventricle.
- The left atrium contracts and more blood flow into the left ventricle.
- When the left ventricle contracts, the mitral valve closes and the aortic valve opens so blood flows into the aorta and out into the systemic circulation to the rest of the body.
What is heart valve disease?
The two most common forms of heart valve disease are:
- Stenosis (or narrowing of the valve): The valve(s) opening becomes narrowed, limiting the flow of blood out of the ventricles or atria. The heart is forced to pump blood with increased force in order to move blood through the narrowed or stiff (stenotic)
- Regurgitation (or leakage of the valve): The valve(s) does not close completely, causing the blood to flow backward through the valve. The heart is forced to pump more blood on the next beat, making it work harder.
Heart valves can develop both malfunctions at the same time (regurgitation and stenosis). Also, more than one heart valve can be affected at the same time. When heart valves fail to open and close properly, the implications for the heart can be serious,
possibly hampering the heart's ability to pump blood adequately through the body. Heart valve problems are one cause of congestive heart failure.
Common Heart Valve Diseases
The mitral and aortic valves are most often affected by heart valve disease. Some of the more common heart valve diseases include: