Heart valve diseases affect how blood flows through the heart muscle. Not all people experience symptoms, even if the condition is severe. You may recognize these early signs and symptoms of heart valve problems.

There are four valves in the heart: the aortic valve, mitral valve, pulmonary valve, and tricuspid valve. These valves keep oxygen-rich blood flowing in one direction through the heart by opening and closing each time the heart beats.

Heart valve diseases impair the normal functioning of these valves. They may allow the flow of blood to move backward in the heart or to slow down, causing symptoms or even heart failure.

Here’s what you need to know about heart valve disease, the early symptoms, and when to see your doctor.

Your doctor may suspect you have a heart valve issue if they hear abnormal sounds when listening to your heart. This is called a heart murmur.

Otherwise, you may not know if you have heart valve disease. Some people do not have any notable symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms may progress gradually over the years or they can appear suddenly.

For some people, the slow onset is because the heart adapts to the issue over time. The heart compensates for the affected valve, making symptoms unnoticeable or only mild.

As a result, valve disease may be advanced in some cases despite a person’s mild symptoms or lack thereof.

Symptoms and their onset are unique to each individual. That said, there are certain symptoms that point to heart valve issues and warrant a checkup with your primary care physician. These include:

Of all these symptoms, extreme fatigue is usually the first a person will experience.

The aortic valve is the valve most commonly affected by heart valve disease. Issues with the aortic valve may be genetic or caused by damage due to calcium deposits or rheumatic disease.

Symptoms of a failing aortic valve may take between 10 and 20 years to develop. You may feel short of breath with exertion or excessively tired with everyday activities. As the issue progresses, you may experience chest pain, fainting, or heart failure.

Heart valve disease affects up to 2.5% of people in the United States. Issues can happen with any of the heart’s valves, which are located between different structures of the heart:

  • aortic valve (left ventricle and aorta)
  • mitral valve (left atrium and left ventricle)
  • pulmonary valve (right ventricle and the pulmonary artery)
  • tricuspid valve (right atrium and right ventricle)

Problems with the valves can occur individually or in combination. These are the main issues:

  • Regurgitation: This is when the heart valves are leaky. It allows the blood to flow backward in the heart .
  • Stenosis: This is the narrowing of heart valves. It restricts the blood flow to the heart.

The name of the condition corresponds to the affected valve and how it is affected. The most common valve issues include aortic stenosis, mitral valve regurgitation, and aortic regurgitation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the aortic valve is responsible for up to 61% cases of death from heart valve disease followed by the mitral valve (15%) and other valves (24%).

The cause of heart valve diseases can be divided into two main categories: congenital, meaning a person is born with it, or acquired, meaning it happens over time due to other factors.


Congenital heart valve diseases are not always preventable.

In fact, some cases of heart valve disease, such as bicuspid aortic valve, are inherited. Other cases are due to heart defects caused by infections, such as rubella, during pregnancy.

Speak with your doctor about steps you can take to prevent congenital heart valve diseases from progressing, including taking certain vitamins and avoiding certain infections.


Acquired cases of heart valve disease may be caused by some lifestyle habits, certain medications and medical treatments, and health conditions and infections.

Your doctor may suggest the following to reduce your risk of heart valve disease:

See your doctor if you notice any new or unusual symptoms. Symptoms may overlap with other health conditions, so it’s important to receive a proper diagnosis.

Likewise, the severity of the symptoms does not necessarily correspond to the severity of the valve issue. You might have few or no symptoms and have a severe heart valve issue, or you might have significant symptoms and have a mild heart valve issue.

Once you have received a diagnosis, your doctor will either monitor the issue closely, prescribe certain medications (such as beta-blockers) to reduce symptoms, or schedule surgery for valve replacement.

While heart valve issues can exist for years before causing symptoms, let your doctor know if you experience unexplained fatigue, heart palpitations, or if you’re out of breath with routine activity. If you have a family history of congenital heart valve disease, your doctor may suggest having regular cardiac checkups.

Treatment depends on the valve that is affected and how it is affected. Treatment can reduce symptoms, and surgery to replace the affected valve can prevent further heart damage.