The heart has four valves: the tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral and aortic valves. These valves are thin tissue flaps that open and close with each heartbeat. These flaps make sure blood flows in the forward direction through your heart's four chambers and to the rest of your body.
Heart valve disease occurs when one or more of your heart valves isn’t working properly. Heart valves can have three basic kinds of problems:
- Regurgitation, or leakage, which occurs when a valve doesn't close appropriately. When this happens, blood leaks back into the heart chamber or the artery.
- Stenosis occurs when the flaps of the valve are thickened, calcified (hardened) or fuse together. This prevents the heart valve from fully opening, and not enough blood flows through the valve.
- Atresia is a rare birth defect where the valve lacks an opening for blood to pass through and is surgically treated in infancy or early childhood.
Heart valve disease can make your heart work harder and affect its ability to pump blood. If not treated, heart valve disease can worsen and cause heart failure, stroke, blood clots, or death due to sudden cardiac arrest.
You can be born with heart valve disease (congenital heart disease) or develop it later in life. Heart valve disease can develop later in life as a result of rheumatic or scarlet fever in childhood, age-related changes in valves such as infection, or disease of the heart muscle that affect the heart valves.