If you view your body as a machine, each of its parts work to keep the whole running efficiently. Your heart valves do an important job, opening and closing to keep blood flowing in the right direction. But if a valve isn’t working properly, it can cause stress on the body and the heart itself.
The heart is a muscle – and a hard working muscle, at that. If a valve does not close properly or if it does not open wide enough to let blood easily pass through, a faulty valve can force your heart to work harder and over-stress your heart. Fortunately, there are options for treatment.
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How Do Heart Valves Work?
Your heart has four chambers, or sections, that beat in time to keep blood flowing throughout your body. Each chamber has a valve with flaps that open to let blood flow forward, and close to stop blood from flowing backward.
The valves in your heart can become narrow, or leak. If this happens, you might have symptoms like:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Fatigue, or feeling very tired
- Coughing (can be dry or with blood)
- Swelling of your feet or ankles
- Heart palpitations, or feeling like your heart is pounding or fluttering
- Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)
Types of Valve Diseases
It’s always best to talk with your doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed above, because it could be a sign of a valve disease like:
What is aortic valve stenosis?
Your aorta is your largest artery, and your aortic valve opens and closes to let blood to flow from your heart into your aorta. Then, blood flows from your aorta out into your body.
Aortic stenosis happens when your aortic valve doesn’t open wide enough to allow enough blood to flow through it. This makes your heart work harder, which can weaken your heart and lead to heart failure over time.
What is mitral valve regurgitation?
Your mitral valve sits between the top and bottom chambers on the left side of your heart. It opens and closes to let blood flow from the top chamber to the bottom chamber.
Mitral valve regurgitation happens when the valve doesn’t close tightly and blood leaks back into the top chamber.
What is mitral valve stenosis?
Mitral valve stenosis happens when the mitral valve doesn’t open wide enough to let enough blood flow through it.
How Are Valve Diseases Treated?
Treatment for valve diseases depends on the condition, how serious it is, and what symptoms you’re feeling.
Open heart and minimally invasive heart surgery
Heart surgery is a common treatment option, because valves usually need to be repaired in order to work properly. Surgery can be:
- Open heart, where a surgeon opens your chest to make the repair
- Minimally invasive, where a surgeon does not open your chest and instead uses a thin, flexible tube (called a catheter) or a robotic device to make the repair
Robotic heart surgery
In some cases, robotic surgery can be used for mitral valve repair. During robotic surgery, a surgeon uses a robotic device that includes a camera and surgical tools to repair the valve. Robotic surgery uses a much smaller incision than open heart surgery, and usually means a faster recovery time for the patient.
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.