Heart valve disease happens when your heart valves don’t work the way they should because of damage or a defect.

Heart valves are an important part of the structure of the heart. Blood that flows between different chambers of your heart, or out of your heart into larger arteries, must flow through a heart valve.

There are 4 valves in your heart:

  • Aortic valve
  • Mitral valve
  • Tricuspid valve
  • Pulmonic valve

These valves open up just enough so that blood can flow through. Then they close, keeping blood from flowing backward.

Problems with the heart valves make the heart work harder. Over time, this extra work may weaken your heart’s pumping action and enlarge your heart, increasing your risk of developing heart failure.

Heart valve problems include:

  • Stenosis - when a valve isn't able to open properly
  • Regurgitation - when a valve doesn't close properly and can leak

Heart Valve Disease Symptoms

Heart valve disease is often congenital (present at birth). However many people with heart valve disease have no symptoms, so it may not be detected until later in adulthood if symptoms start to appear.

Some types of heart valve disease cause an unusual heart sound called a heart murmur, but many people have heart murmurs without having valve problems.

Other heart valve disease symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Swollen ankles, feet or abdomen
  • Wheezing or coughing
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain or pressure

Heart Valve Disease Diagnosis

At Wake Forest Baptist, we use advanced diagnostic tools to help determine whether you have heart valve disease. In a physical exam, your physician will listen to your heart to see if you have a heart murmur. Your physician may order tests including:

Heart Valve Disease Treatment

If valve damage is mild, your doctor may decide to take a “wait and see” approach or treat your symptoms with medication. If damage to the valve is more severe, surgery to repair or replace the valve may be needed.

The aortic valve is the most common valve to be replaced. The mitral valve is the most common valve to be repaired. Only rarely is the tricuspid valve or the pulmonic valve repaired or replaced.

The type of surgery will depend on the type of defect and the specific heart valve in which it occurs. Surgical options are either minimally invasive (one or more small cuts) or open (large cut in your chest). A number of risk factors and considerations go into the decision to have minimally invasive or open surgery. Your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan that works for your individual needs.

Like any heart problem, heart valve disease can seem overwhelming. Wake Forest Baptist’s heart surgeons perform hundreds of valve repair and replacement surgeries each year. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons has awarded our cardiac surgeons their highest quality ranking.

Heart and Vascular Center

Wake Forest Baptist’s Heart and Vascular Center combines cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery and vascular surgery to provide a multidisciplinary team approach to patient- and family-centered care. At the Heart and Vascular Center, our philosophy is clear: patients come first. We offer the latest in technology, devices and medication combined with personalized care, to offer life-changing vascular and heart disease treatments.