Heart Valve Disease

When the four main valves of your heart are working properly, they open to pump out blood to the rest of your body and close to keep blood from going backward into the heart. But if a valve doesn’t work as it should, it can keep your body from getting enough blood or cause the blood to seep back into the heart.

Problems with both the opening (stenosis) and closing (regurgitation) of valves require the heart to work harder, triggering shortness of breath, fatigue and other symptoms. Any valve in the heart can become diseased, but the aortic valve is the most commonly affected. Unless the valves are treated, stroke, heart failure and sudden cardiac death can occur.

Types of Heart Valve Disease

Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease

The symptoms of heart valve disease can be tricky to pin down, which makes it even more important to report any new or irregular symptoms to your healthcare provider.

Some people may not have symptoms at all but still very much need treatment. Some may suddenly experience very noticeable symptoms – especially if the condition is severe. For others, the disease progresses slowly, and the heart compensates, minimizing the signs of heart valve problems.

At the same time, the symptoms don’t necessarily determine the seriousness of a person’s heart valve problems.

The physical signs of heart valve disease:

  • Chest pain or palpitations (rapid rhythms or skips)
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty catching your breath, fatigue, weakness or inability to maintain regular activity level
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Swollen ankles, feet or abdomen

Diagnosing Heart Valve Conditions

Treatment Options


There are no medications that can cure heart valve disease, though there are medications to reduce symptoms and to keep other problems from developing. Medications can:

  • Lower high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol.
  • Prevent arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).
  • Thin the blood and prevent clots (if you have a man-made replacement valve). Doctors also prescribe these medications for mitral stenosis or other valve defects that raise the risk of blood clots.
  • Treat coronary heart disease. Medications for coronary heart disease can reduce your heart’s workload and relieve symptoms.
  • Treat heart failure. Heart failure medications widen blood vessels and rid the body of excess fluid.

Lifestyle Habits

Changes in your diet and physical activity may be helpful for reducing symptoms and preventing the progression of heart valve disease. For instance, you may benefit from lowering the amount of salt in your diet to reduce fluid retention. Exercise reduces heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol and blood pressure and can also help you lose excess pounds or maintain a healthy weight.

Talk to your doctor about what changes are appropriate for you. In general, a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise and medications prescribed for the prevention of heart-related problems, such as heart attack or high blood pressure, can also guard against heart valve disease.


Medications and heart-healthy lifestyle habits may be all that are needed to reduce symptoms of valve disease and keep it from worsening. But some patients will need additional treatment.

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