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Heart has four valves and they regulate the blood flow into and out of the heart. Heart valves can get damaged over time leading to leaky or narrow heart valves. It is important to identify these symptoms of leaky heart valves so that treatment can be started soon. The common types of heart valve problems include aortic stenosis, mitral regurgitation, tricuspid regurgitation. In this article learn about the anatomy of heart valves, symptoms and treatment of heart valve problems.

What are heart valves and what do they do?

Heart has four chambers, two on the top and two at the bottom. Top chambers are small, called atrium. Bottom chambers are larger and called ventricles. Atria and ventricles are divided by a muscle into left and right side. These chambers work in sync with each other so that blood flow in one direction from one chamber to the other( from Right upper chamber to right lower chamber to Lungs to Left upper chamber to left lower chamber to Rest of the body). Heart valves are like doors between two chambers which open and close at the right time so that blood does not flow back and continue to flow in the right direction. Heart has four valves - tricuspid valve and pulmonary valve on the right side, mitral and aortic valve on the left side.

Where are heart valves located?

Tricuspid valve: It is located between right atrium and right ventricle and opens to allow blood flow from the Right atrium and Right ventricle.

Pulmonary valve: It is located between right ventricle and lungs and opens to allow blood flow from right ventricle to lungs.

Mitral valve: It is located between left atrium and left ventricle and opens to allow blood flow from the left atrium and left ventricle.

Aortic valve: It is located between left ventricle and aorta, the main artery of the body and opens to allow blood flow from the left ventricle to aorta.

Heart Valve Problems

Symptoms of Leaky Heart Valves

  • Shortness of Breath and Leg Swelling are the most common symptoms of leaky heart valves. The similar 
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Passing out
  • Weight gain due to leg swelling


What are the different types of heart valve problems?

Stenosis or Narrowing of the valves: Valve opening can become restricted or narrow causing difficult for blood to flow.

Leaky or Regurgitant valves:Valve does not close properly, and blood flow in the opposite direction making it hard for heart to pump blood.

PREVALENCE OF LEAKY HEART VALVE

Leaky and Narrow Heart Valve Problems by age in USA


<45 years
(percent)

45 to 54 years
(percent)

55 to 64 years
(percent)

65 to 74 years
(percent)

>75 years
(percent)

Aortic Stenosis

0.02

0.1

0.2

1.3

2.8

Aortic Regurgitation

0.2

0.1

0.7

1.0

2.0

Mitral Stenosis

0.0

0.1

0.2

0.2

0.2

Mitral Regurgitation

0.5

0.1

1.0

6.4

9.3


CAUSES OF NARROW AND LEAKY HEART VALVES

  • Age related calcification of the valves
  • Infection
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Congenital deformity of the valves
  • Heart attack
  • Congestive heart failure

TESTS TO DIAGNOSE HEART VALVE PROBLEMS

Your doctor will like to do a thorough examination of your chest to look for signs of heart valve disease. To confirm the diagnosis your cardiologist might advise you to undergo some tests like:

  • Echocardiogram:  for this test a small hand held probe will be put on your chest by the doctor; this probe produces sound waves which help in visualising the heart with its chambers and valves. This test also helps the doctor evaluate the flow of blood through the chambers. Severity of the murmur can be assessed by this test.
  • Chest X ray: to assess the position and size of your heart
  • Electrocardiogram: small leads will be placed on your chest to record the electrical activity of the heart. The reading of an electrocardiogram tells your doctor about the rate and rhythm of your heart in addition to the health of the different chambers of your heart.
  • Blood work: like BNP to check for fluid build up in the body.
  • Heart Catheterisation: This test is done to check for blockages in heart arteries or pressures inside the heart.


Treatment for heart valve problems

Your Cardiologist will treat primary medical problems like hypertension and infection. There are no specific medications to treat valves. The problems are generally treated with open heart surgery to replace or repair the valve. Some valve problems like mitral regurgitation and aortic stenosis can be fixed via nonsurgical approach in some patients

What are the different kind of artificial valves?

The 2 main kind of artificial valve are mechanical valves and tissue valves. Mechanical valve typically need a lifelong blood thinner like warfarin but they usually have a longer life span. The tissue valves generally last for shorter duration like 10 years but have the advantage of not needing blood thinners. Every patient’s circumstances are different due to difference in kind of of valve problem and other medical conditions.


Image Resource:

  1. Uptodate.com. Topic access Valvular Heart disease.
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16980116.Burden of Valvular heart diseases: a population-based study. Lancet 2006; 368:1005.


Mitral regurgitation, Leaky heart valve, Aortic stenosis, Cardiology


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