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What is Heart Valve Disease?

The heart consists of four valves: mitral, aortic, tricuspid and pulmonary. In a healthy heart, blood flows from right to left in the upper chambers (aria) and travels into the lower chambers (ventricles) through the mitral and tricuspid valves. From there, the lower chambers contract to push blood out through the pulmonary and aortic valves to the lungs and vital organs.

In a properly functioning valve, once blood has passed through, the flaps, or leaflets, will close tightly over the valve opening to ensure blood moves in the right direction and prevents any from leaking back into the valve.

When one or more of these valves is damaged or defective, the heart cannot function as efficiently and can lead to serious health complications. The University of Chicago Medicine cardiologists and cardiac surgeons are leaders in the diagnosis and treatment of heart valve disease, including complex valve disease, and extensive experiences in managing care for high-risk patients.

Heart Valve Anatomy

Heart Valve Anatomy

Mitral Valve is found between the left aria and ventricle and allows blood to pass from the left atrium to the left ventricle

Tricuspid Valve is located between the right upper and lower chambers, directing blood from the right atrium to the right ventricle.

Aortic Valve sits between the left ventricle and the aorta (large artery in the heart that carries blood to the body) and provides a pathway from the heart to vital organs.

Pulmonary Valve connects the right ventricle with the pulmonary artery to direct blood towards the lungs.

What are the Symptoms and Causes of Valve Disease?

Heart valve disease is a disorder that a person can be born with (congenital) or can develop over time due to degeneration, bacterial endocarditis, high blood pressure, rheumatic fever, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and other heart conditions.

Patients with heart valve disease, may or may not experience symptoms, and for those that do, they can either come on suddenly or gradually worsen. Common symptoms include:

  • Swelling of extremities (arms, hands, legs and feet)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations, chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Fever

If you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed above, you should consult your physician to assess your risk for heart valve disease.

What are Common Heart Valve Conditions?

At the University of Chicago Medicine, our multidisciplinary team specializes in a treating the full rage of heart valve disorders, including the following common conditions:

Valve Regurgitation
Valve Stenosis
Mitral Prolapse
Tricuspid Atresia
Bicuspid Aortic Valve Disease

Valve Regurgitation

Regurgitation occurs when the flaps (or leaflets) do not seal properly around the opening of the valve, allowing blood to leak backwards through the valve. Treatment depends on whether the condition is impacting heart functionality. Cases where the heart has weakened due to compensating for regurgitation may need valve repair or replacement surgery or transcatheter mitral valve repair with MitraClip to fix the issue.

There are four types of valve regurgitation:

Valve Stenosis

Stenosis is characterized by a narrowing of the valve due to plaque build-up (atherosclerosis). When the valve thickens or narrows, the opening becomes smaller and blood cannot pass through the valve as easily. With stenosis, the heart works hard to compensate for the constricted opening and blood flow is reduced to other chambers of the heart and/or to vital organs. Depending on the severity of the stenosis, In severe cases, heart valve surgery or interventional procedures may be necessary to prevent serious health complications. Patients can be diagnosed with:

  • Mitral valve stenosis
  • Aortic valve stenosis
  • Tricuspid valve stenosis
  • Pulmonary valve stenosis

Mitral Prolapse

Prolapse develops when one of the leaflets that act as the seal for the mitral valve have extra tissue that protrudes into the upper left chamber as the heart contracts. When this happens, the seal is ineffective and blood is able to flow back into the left atrium. For many people, this is a mild condition without any symptoms or complications, but if the regurgitation is severe, the condition may require treatment. Learn more about treatment options for prolapse-related regurgitation.

Tricuspid Atresia

Tricuspid atresia a congenital condition (present at birth) where the tricuspid valve is not fully formed. Instead, the patient is born with tissue growth between the upper right chamber and the lower right chamber that obstructs blood flow between the atria and the ventricle. Since blood does not flow properly throughout the heart and into the lungs, patients with tricuspid atresia are often short of breath and tire quickly due to lack of oxygen. Typically, surgery is needed to correct this issue.

Bicuspid aortic valve disease

A healthy aortic valve will have three flaps to seal the valve and regulate blood flow. People are born with the congenital condition bicuspid valve disease only have two aortic valve leaflets. Without the third leaflet, the valve will not close properly and blood can leak backwards into the heart, which reduces blood flow to the rest of the body. Patients with bicuspid aortic valve disease usually have valve repair or replacement surgery to prevent further health problems.