Heart valve disease occurs when at least one of the four valves in the heart fails to operate as usual. This can be due to valves allowing blood to leak backward, valves being too narrow, or valves not having an opening at all.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2.5% of Americans have a type of heart valve disease that can involve a wide range of conditions.

Heart valve disease means that at least one of the heart’s four valves fails to operate as usual. Symptoms and treatments can vary greatly depending on which valves are affected and the reason why.

If you have symptoms of heart valve disease, it’s important to talk with your doctor. This allows doctors to recommend more diagnostic testing and determine specifics about your condition. It’s also important to treat any underlying issues affecting your heart valves. This is to help prevent potentially life threatening conditions.

The three types of heart valve disease are:

1. Regurgitation

Regurgitation is sometimes known as backflow or insufficiency. It occurs when a heart valve can’t close tightly, and some of the blood flows backward.

Regurgitation prevents the heart from pumping blood efficiently. It may be due to a stretched valve opening or valves that are not in the right shape.

2. Stenosis

Stenosis means that a heart valve opening is too small.

This can make it hard for blood to pass through the heart and force the heart to work harder to pump the blood. Stenosis may be due to valves that are too narrow or flaps that have formed incorrectly.

3. Atresia

Atresia means that a heart valve has no opening at all. Instead, a solid tissue forms that blocks blood flow. It’s usually present at birth but can rarely develop later in life.

The two main types are:

  • pulmonary atresia, where blood can’t flow from the heart to the lungs
  • tricuspid atresia, where blood flow is blocked between the right atrium and the right ventricle inside the heart

Symptoms of heart valve disease can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • a racing heartbeat or feeling like your heart is skipping a beat
  • heart murmurs
  • swelling, particularly around the eyes, ankles, or abdomen

When heart valve disease is present in newborns, symptoms may include:

Newborns can have all three types of valvular heart disease mentioned above due to congenital heart defects. In some cases, inherited genes cause these congenital defects.

Valvular heart disease can also develop over time as a result of:

While specific causes vary, atresia is usually present at birth because of a congenital heart defect. And regurgitation is often the result of the mitral valve falling from its normal body position.

No matter what type of heart valve disease you may have, it’s important to consider making lifestyle changes that are healthy for your heart. These can include:

Doctors may recommend medications to help manage symptoms and prevent heart valve disease from getting worse. They may also prescribe medications to treat heart conditions affecting your heart valve function.

Examples of medications doctors might prescribe include:

In some cases, doctors may recommend surgery to repair valves in the heart. Surgeries that may be necessary include:

  • fixing heart valve flaps (valvuloplasty)
  • inflating a balloon to pump blood through a valve or widen an opening
  • placing a stent
  • removing deposits or tumors
  • tightening or strengthening the valve base (annuloplasty)

If it’s necessary to replace any of your heart valves, your medical team will discuss it with you. They’ll help determine whether biological valves made from animal tissue make more sense. They may also consider mechanical valves made from carbon and other sturdy materials as another option.

If you’re not experiencing symptoms, your doctor may request that you continue to have your heart monitored. But they might not suggest additional treatments.

Depending on the symptoms and severity of heart valve disease, doctors may suggest lifestyle changes and medications as the first-line treatment to delay the need for surgery. It’s important to keep in mind that if you’re living with heart valve disease and do not initially require surgery, you may still need it later.

Having heart valve disease means that at least one of your heart valves is not working as well as usual. This can be due to blood leaking back through valves, valves being too narrow, or valves not having a proper opening. Heart valve issues may be present at birth or develop as you age.

If you experience any signs of cardiac distress, it’s important to get medical help right away. Heart failure and other life threatening conditions may occur if heart valve disease is left untreated.