When a heart valve is damaged or doesn’t close properly, it can cause what’s known as a “leaky valve.” Depending on the severity of the leaky valve, there are several different treatment options, ranging from medication to surgery.

A leaky heart valve is when one of your valves won’t close properly. The condition is also called valve regurgitation, because it allows some of your blood to flow backward through the valve instead of moving forward. A related condition, called valve stenosis, means your valve can’t open sufficiently, restricting healthy blood flow through your heart.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 2.5% of the U.S. population has some type of heart valve disease. Older adults make up most of those affected by valve regurgitation, stenosis, or other conditions.

A leaky valve can be minor and require no treatment. But you should have it monitored in case your condition gets worse.

In more serious cases, valve repair or replacement may be necessary. Because a leaky valve is usually treatable, the long-term outlook is usually promising.

A leaky heart valve can be serious and require treatment to prevent life threatening complications. However, if the leak is minor and you have no symptoms or problems with circulation, you can live with a leaky valve for a long time without treatment.

If you have a mild case of valve regurgitation, it’s important to get regular checkups with a doctor or healthcare professional and to report any new symptoms right away.

Some of the more serious symptoms of a leaky heart valve can include:

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, if your valve regurgitation becomes severe and is left untreated, your heart has to work harder, raising your risk of:

The two main treatment options for valve regurgitation are valve repair and replacement. In some situations, medication may also be a treatment option.


If a doctor determines that your leaky valve doesn’t require repair or replacement, you may be prescribed medications such as:

  • Antihypertensive medications: These medications treat high blood pressure.
  • Blood thinners: Blood thinners, such as anticoagulants or antiplatelet drugs, reduce your risk of a blood clot forming.
  • Diuretics: Diuretics reduce the fluid levels and sodium in your body.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics can be used in certain situations, such as before dental work, to prevent heart valve infection or endocarditis.

A doctor will likely also encourage you to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes:

Valve repair or replacement

Leaky valves that are causing symptoms and compromising your heart function will usually require repair or replacement. The best treatment option for your leaky heart valve depends on which valve is affected and the nature of the problem.

The heart valves

Your heart contains four valves, any of which can experience regurgitation:

  • Aortic valve: Your aortic valve allows blood to leave your left ventricle and enter your aorta. Your aorta carries blood out to your body.
  • Mitral valve: Your mitral valve allows blood to flow from your left atrium down to your left ventricle.
  • Pulmonary valve: Your pulmonary valve allows blood to flow from your right ventricle to your lungs to become oxygenated.
  • Tricuspid valve: Your tricuspid valve allows blood to flow from your right atrium down to your right ventricle.
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Each valve has leaflets, or flaps, that open to allow blood to flow through your valve. Your valves then close to allow blood to fill up the chamber before the valve opens again. Valve regurgitation often occurs because there are problems with the leaflets not being able to close properly.

The aortic and mitral valves are the ones that most commonly become leaky. A 2019 study compared repair or replacement for severe mitral valve regurgitation due to a problem with the valve itself (also known as primary mitral valve regurgitation). According to this study, mitral valve repair was associated with lower mortality rates.

The same study found no difference in rates of heart failure and other complications when compared with replacement procedures.

A separate 2019 study also suggests that aortic valve repair is associated with similar mortality rates as aortic valve replacement.

The need for follow-up procedures is higher among people who undergo aortic valve repair rather verses replacement.

Primary vs. secondary mitral regurgitation

  • Primary valve regurgitation: This means the regurgitation is caused by one or more parts of your heart valve not working properly.
  • Secondary valve regurgitation: This means the regurgitation is caused by another condition or disease (such as coronary heart disease or high blood pressure) or an injury.
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Repair options

Leaky valve repair can involve several different procedures depending on the cause of your leak. These procedures can include:

  • Annuloplasty: Annuloplasty is a procedure to support the ring (annulus) around the valve.
  • Valvuloplasty: Valvuloplasty can include:
    • patching holes in your valve
    • reconnecting valve leaflets that have started to separate from the rest of the valve
    • separating flaps that have become fused
    • surgical removal of excess valve tissue to help the valve close more securely

For severe mitral valve regurgitation, a catheter procedure that involves attaching a clip to the valve to help it close more tightly is an option. This is usually an option for people with secondary mitral regurgitation who haven’t had success with medications.

Replacement options

If your valve is severely damaged, replacing the entire valve may be necessary. Replacing a leaky heart valve may be done with open surgery or, in some cases, with the use of a catheter that’s threaded into a large artery (usually starting in your upper leg) and guided up to your heart.

For less-serious cases, a replacement valve may be placed within your natural valve. This is called a valve-in-valve procedure.

One complex procedure to replace an aortic valve is called the Ross procedure. It involves removing the pulmonary valve and placing it at the site of the aortic valve. A mechanical valve is then implanted at the site previously occupied by the pulmonary valve.

A 2021 study suggests that the Ross procedure is an especially helpful option for infants born with a congenital aortic valve problem. The study also found that the procedure is associated with ideal long-term outcomes and lower risks of complications.

Replacement valves may be mechanical or biological, made of tissue from a cow, pig, or human heart. Mechanical valves can last a lifetime, but they’re typically associated with a higher risk of blood clots. People who get a mechanical valve will need to take blood thinner medication for the rest of their life.

Biological valves don’t raise your risk of clotting and stroke, but the valve may need to be replaced one or more times, depending on your age and overall health.

Your outlook for living with a leaky heart valve varies depending on several factors.

The outlook for people with a mild case of leaky heart valve with no symptoms and no other heart problems is very good. Similarly, if your valve disease is treated effectively and no complications develop, the outlook is generally positive.

A 2020 study suggests that even in people with severe, degenerative mitral valve regurgitation, effective mitral valve repair restores an individual’s life expectancy to that of the general population.

The key is to get your heart checked regularly. By being proactive, you and your healthcare team can catch any problems early enough to prevent serious complications that might affect your long-term health.

If you have a leaky valve, also known as valve regurgitation, but don’t have any symptoms or heart issues, you may not need any treatment.

If you develop symptoms, such as chest pain, frequent heart palpitations, or shortness of breath, it’s important to visit a doctor or cardiologist (heart specialist) to discuss your symptoms. Leaky valves that are causing symptoms and affecting your heart function often require repair or replacement.

The type of procedure that’s right for you depends on which valve is affected, how badly the valve has been damaged and how much it’s affecting your heart function. With the right treatment, the outlook for people with a leaky valve is generally positive.