UAB Medicine

Valve Disease Overview

The heart has four valves that prevent the backward flow of blood between its four chambers. The four valves are the mitral valve, aortic valve, pulmonary valve, and tricuspid valve.

Read more about the anatomy and function of the heart valves »  

Heart valve disease occurs when one or more of these valves do not function properly. Two types of malfunctions may occur: regurgitation (the valve does not close completely, causing blood to flow backward), and stenosis (valve openings become narrowed, damaged, or scarred, inhibiting the flow of blood out of the ventricles or atria). It is possible to have both regurgitation and stenosis at the same time.

Heart valve disease is typically acquired, which means it develops over time. In rare cases, it can be present at birth, which is a   congenital   condition.

There are several forms of heart valve disease that can affect one or more of the valves, including but not limited to:

  • Aortic Valve Disease. The most common form of aortic valve disease is   Aortic Stenosis  , which is the inability of the aortic valve to open completely. Aortic Stenosis causes the heart to work harder to pump blood out of the aorta (which distributes blood to the rest of the body), weakening the heart over time. The most common causes of Aortic Stenosis are:
    • Deterioration of the valve’s function due to calcification (the deposit of calcium in the valve, which can cause it to become narrow, reducing blood flow)
    • Deterioration of the valve and its function due to aging

Another form of aortic valve disease is aortic incompetence or regurgitation (leaking valve). Common causes are:

  • Aortic root aneurysm, swelling that occurs at the part of the aorta that is closest to the heart
  • Damage due to valve infection (called endocarditis)
  • Rare connective tissue disorders that weaken heart valve tissue
  • Mitral Valve Disease. The most common form of mitral valve disease is   Mitral Valve Prolapse  , which occurs when the mitral valve does not close completely. This allows blood to leak backwards into the left atrium. Like aortic stenosis, mitral valve prolapse causes the heart to work harder to pump blood, weakening the heart over time. Mitral valve disease can develop in several ways:
    • Weakening of connective tissue, called myxomatous degeneration
    • Rheumatic disease
    • Deterioration due to calcification (the deposit of calcium in the valve, which can cause it to become narrow, reducing blood flow), or regurgitation
    • Damage due to valve infection (called endocarditis)
    • The patient can be born with a defective mitral valve
  • Pulmonary Valve Disease Pulmonary stenosis is the second most common congenital heart defect, and involves problems with blood flow from the heart to the lungs through the pulmonary valve.
  • Tricuspid Valve Disease. This form of valve disease can develop due to:
    • Another heart valve problem
    • Endocarditis, an infection often associated with IV drug use

Heart valve disease symptoms vary based on the type of heart valve disease and the individual. Many patients have no symptoms and experience progressive damage of the heart muscle prior to the appearance of symptoms. Often the patient’s family and friends may be more aware of their symptoms and any subtle changes they exhibit than the patient him or herself. Some common symptoms are:

  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • palpitations
  • dizziness
  • With endocarditis (infection): fever, sweats, and chills

If you or your primary care physician suspects you may have heart valve disease, you should see an experienced cardiologist, who will review your medical history, conduct a physical examination, and recommend a number of different tests, outlined below. UAB physicians have access to the most advanced testing technology available to better evaluate and treat patients with suspected heart valve disease. If heart valve disease is suspected, your doctor may advise one of the following diagnostic procedures:

  • Chest x-ray
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG), which tests for problems with the electrical activity of your heart
  • Transthoracic Echo (TTE) or Transesophageal echo (TEE), which uses sound waves to produce an image of the heart valves moving as the heart beats
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer to produce detailed images of your heart.
  • Cardiac catheterization involves inserting a thin tube into an artery so that pictures and measurements can be taken of the heart and its function.

UAB offers a variety of advanced options for patients suffering from heart valve disease. Because UAB is an academic medical center, patients often have access to some of the most novel therapies and may be eligible for promising clinical trials.

Get Help
If you think you may have valve disease, talk to your physician about your symptoms and ask if a referral to UAB Heart and Vascular Services may be right for you. Referrals may be made by calling MIST at 1.800.UAB.MIST (1.800.822.6478)

Patients can get more information, by calling UAB Healthfinder at 1.800.UAB.8816 (1.800.822.8816) or by filling out our   Make an Appointment form »