A healthy heart beats around 100,000 times a day. The heart’s job is to supply the body with oxygen-rich blood.

The heart has four chambers. Blood is pumped through the four chambers with the help of four heart valves.


Heart valves open when the heart pumps to allow blood to flow. They close quickly between heartbeats to make sure blood does not flow backward.

  • The pulmonary valve (1) controls the flow of blood to the lungs to get oxygen.
  • The aortic valve (2) controls the flow of blood as it exits the heart and is pumped to the rest of the body.
  • The tricuspid (3) and mitral valves (4) control blood flow as it moves between the chambers of the heart.
Illustration of a Normal Heart


Every year, about 5 million Americans learn they have heart valve disease,1 which disrupts the flow of blood through the heart. It can leave you short of breath and too weak for normal activities.

Heart valve disease can disturb the normal flow of blood through the heart. This can affect your overall health and keep you from enjoying the activities you love.

The aortic valve, pulmonary valve, mitral valve, and tricuspid valve can develop one or both of these problems:

  • The valve opening becomes narrow (stenotic), which makes the heart work harder to pump blood.
  • The valve does not close completely (valve insufficiency or regurgitation), which means blood can flow backward instead of only forward. Backward blood flow reduces your heart's ability to pump blood to the rest of your body. This also causes a buildup of back pressure in your heart and lungs.

CAUSES of heart valve disease

Heart valve disease can develop before birth (congenital), be acquired during your lifetime, or be the result of an infection. Acquired heart valve disease is the most common. It involves changes in the structure of your heart valves as a result of mineral deposits on the valve or surrounding tissue. Infective heart valve disease causes changes to your valves because of diseases, such as rheumatic fever or infections.


There are a number of symptoms that may indicate heart valve disease, including:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty catching your breath, especially after you have been active or when you lie down flat in bed
  • Often feeling dizzy or too weak to perform your normal activities
  • Pressure or weight in your chest, especially when you are active or when you go out into cold air
  • Heart palpitations or a feeling that your heart is beating irregularly, skipping beats, or flip-flopping in your chest
  • Swelling in your ankles, feet, or belly. Sudden weight gain with possibly as much as 2 to 3 pounds in 1 day

Symptoms can range from moderately severe to none at all and do not always indicate the seriousness of heart valve disease


There are risk factors you can control and risk factors you can't control. Factors you can control include infections and untreated strep throat, which can lead to rheumatic fever. Advancing age and congenital heart problems (present from birth) are factors beyond your control. 


Your doctor can detect a heart valve problem and evaluate the nature of your valve damage by talking with you about your symptoms and performing a number of tests. These tests may include:

  • Listening to your heart to hear the valves opening and closing and the rush of blood through them
  • Conducting an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to produce detailed images of your heart valves moving as your heart beats
  • Ordering a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which uses a magnetic field and radio waves to get detailed images of the inside of your heart
  • Taking an x-ray image of your chest to check your heart, its major vessels, and your lungs for abnormalities
  • Using an ECG to measure the electrical impulses given off by your heart. An ECG gives your doctor important information about your heart's rhythm and its size.

treatment options

There are several options for treating heart valve disease.


Certain medications may ease some severe aortic stenosis symptoms.

Balloon Valvuloplasty (BAV)

A tiny balloon is inflated in the aortic valve to try and improve blood flow, but this treatment typically provides only temporary relief.

Valve Repair

During an annuplasty procedure the surgeon reshapes your heart valve and may also attach the valve to its chords and add support to the valve annulus.

Surgical Aortic Valve Replacement (SAVR)

Open heart surgery is done to remove the diseased aortic valve and replace it with an artificial valve. Patients usually need to stay in the hospital for a week or more, before beginning a long period of recovery.

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI)

TAVI is less invasive than open heart surgery. Your doctor will make a small incision on your body. After, a thin, flexible tube is inserted into an artery to guide the artificial heart valve up to your heart to replace the diseased valve.


Nkomo VT, Gardin JM, Skelton TN, et al. Burden of valvular diseases: a population-based study. The Lancet Online. August 18, 2006; Vol 368; pp 1005-1011.