Heart Valve Disease: Risks, Signs and Symptoms

heart valve disease

About 2.5% of Americans experience heart valve disease. Every year, almost 28,000 Americans die from this disease. Heart valve disease happens when one or more heart valves ( keep blood flowing in one direction through the heart and body) don’t work correctly. They keep blood flowing in the correct direction. Once one of the valves doesn’t open or close properly, it affects blood flow and stains the body. Our heart has four valves:

  • Mitral (between the left atrium and left ventricle);
  • Tricuspid (between the right atrium and right ventricle);
  • Aortic (between the left ventricle and aorta);
  • Pulmonary (between the right ventricle and pulmonary artery).

The valves have small flaps, called leaflets, that open to move the blood forward through the heart and close to prevent the backward flow of the blood.

What are the types of heart valve disease?

There are various types of heart valve disease that can affect more than one valve. They include:


This happens when the flats forming the valve leaflets become thick and stiffer. Over time, calcium buildup leads to the narrowing of the heart valve opening, reducing the amount of blood that flows through it. Strong narrowing (stenotic) affects the heart’s function, making its pump harder and putting it under strain. As a result, the body won’t get enough blood flow leading to severe heart failure.

Another common type of stenosis is valve stenosis, which affects the valve that controls blood flow into the large artery that carries blood out of the heart to the body.


It is also known as backflow or valvular insufficiency. This happens when the valve flaps cannot close tightly, allowing the blood to flow back across the valve. Additionally, regurgitation causes prolapse, where valve flaps lop or bulge back. Prolapse most often affects the mitral valve (where valve flaps go back into your left atrium when your heart beats).


It happens when a heart valve does not form properly before birth. Also, it doesn’t have an opening for blood to pass through. Usually, it is diagnosed very early in infancy.

Causes of heart valve diseases

Various valve disease causes are linked to birth defects (congenital heart valve disease) or caused by another condition and can develop over time as you get older.

Congenital disabilities (birth defects)

Abnormalities present at birth include:

  • Aortic valve stenosis;
  • Ebstein’s anomaly;
  • Pulmonary valve stenosis;
  • Bicuspid aortic valve.

Aging and age-related valve disease

Causes of age-related valve disease include:

Degenerative valve disease. Over time valves may gradually degenerate, affecting the mitral valve. Mitral valve prolapse condition affects 2% to 3% of the population, leading to mitral valve regurgitation and requiring treatment.

Calcification due to aging. Most commonly, calcium can accumulate on the heart’s valves, affecting the aortic valve, and can lead to aortic stenosis.

Mediastinal radiation therapy (radiation to the chest). Studies have shown childhood cancer survivors who had radiation therapy have an increased chance of valve disease later in life.

Other conditions that may cause valve problems:

  • Rheumatic fever from strep throat that wasn’t treated;
  • Heart attack and other heart failures that damage the heart;
  • Heart infections, like infective endocarditis;
  • High blood pressure (advanced);
  • A congenital problem that’s been present since birth;
  • Degeneration or calcification of the valve tissue.

All these conditions can affect one or more heart valves. It makes the heart work harder and lessens its ability to pump blood. This disease influences life quality and even becomes life-threatening. Fortunately, treatment helps most valve diseases.

Symptoms of valve problems

Sometimes symptoms of valve disease may go unnoticed; however, some people may suddenly experience very noticeable conditions. In the case of severe conditions, symptoms develop very quickly.

However, the risk and damage of valve problems may be significant, and awareness about the possible causes is essential for patients who may be at risk. Valve heart disease symptoms include:

  • Chest pain or palpitations (rapid rhythms or skips);
  • increasing shortness of breath, especially with physical activity or lying down. fatigue and dizziness (inability to maintain regular activity level);
  • quick weight gain;
  • edema (swelling of the ankles, feet, or abdomen);
  • quick weight gain;
  • chest discomfort.

If the valve disease is caused by infection, you may experience fevers, chills, or body aches.

Learn more Shop now
ekg in hands photo

How is heart valve disease diagnosed?

Tests to diagnose heart valve disease include:

Echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart): image of the heart’s valves and chambers using sound waves from a handheld wand placed on your chest.

Exercise stress echocardiogram: performed after doing some exercises to see how the valves and heart function respond to exercise.

Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE): provides more precise images than a regular echocardiogram because the esophagus sits very close to the heart.

Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): performed to get records of the heart’s electrical activity on graph paper. Also, you may use a portable EKG monitor and check your heart condition during the day. (Read here about EKG Apps)

Heart valve disease is a lifelong condition that can be managed with the help of medications, lifestyle changes, or surgery. Be sure to eat healthy food, exercise more, avoid bad habits, take all prescribed medicines, and go to all of your follow-up appointments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *