What is Valvular Heart Disease

Heart DoctorValvular heart disease is when any valve in your heart is damaged. There is the mitral valve (or bicuspid), the tricuspid valve, the aortic valve, and the pulmonary valve. The valves open and close to control the flow of blood into and away from the heart. Healthy valves have leaflets that are able to fully open and close during the heartbeat, but diseased valves may not fully open and close. A valve that is diseased may not fully close – this is called regurgitation. If this happens, blood leaks back into the chamber where it came from. The aortic valve is most commonly affected.

Another common type of heart valve condition is stenosis. Stenosis happens when the opening of the valve is narrowed and stiff and the valve is not able to open fully when blood is trying to pass through.

If the heart valves are diseased, the heart can’t effectively pump blood throughout the body and has to work harder to pump, either while the blood is leaking back into the chamber or against a narrowed opening. This can lead to heart failure, sudden cardiac arrest, and death.

About 2.5% of the population in the U.S. has valvular heart disease. It is most common among older adults. Rheumatic heart disease most commonly affects the mitral valve or aortic valve.

Possible Causes

There are several causes of valvular heart disease, including:

  • Rheumatic disease can happen after an infection from the bacteria that causes strep throat is not treated with antibiotics. The infection causes scarring of the heart valve.
  • Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart caused by a severe infection in the blood. The infection can damage heart valves. Intravenous drug use can also lead to endocarditis.
  • Congenital heart valve disease is a malformation of the heart valves from birth. The most commonly affected valve with a congenital defect is a bicuspid aortic valve.
  • Other types of heart disease such as heart failure, atherosclerosis, thoracic aortic aneurysm, high blood pressure, or heart attack.
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Marfan syndrome
  • Exposure to high-dose radiation
  • Aging


Symptoms of valvular heart disease include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Fever
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Irregular heartbeat

Your doctor may hear a heart murmur when listening to your heartbeat. Depending on the location of the murmur, how it sounds, and its rhythm, the doctor may be able to determine which valve is affected and what type of problem it is (regurgitation or stenosis).

A doctor may also use an echocardiography to see if the valves are working correctly. Medications or surgery may be used to treat valvular heart disease depending on the severity and location of the damaged valve.