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Valvular Disease

Our hearts are composed of four valves: mitral, tricuspid, aortic and pulmonic.

Valve disease is caused by valvular stenosis or valvular insufficiency.

In valvular stenosis, valve leaflet tissues become stiffer, narrowing the valve openings and reducing the amount of blood that can flow through. A mild narrowing may not reduce the heart’s overall function, but it can become so narrow (stenotic) that function is compromised and the rest of the body may not be adequately served.

Valvular insufficiency, or regurgitation, incompetence, "leaky valve,” occurs when the leaflets do not close completely, letting blood leak backward across the valve. This backward flow is referred to as “regurgitant flow.”

Valve disease can be congenital or acquired later in life. Congenital valve disease may be related to improper valve size, malformed leaflets or leaflets being wrongly attached. Acquired valve diseases are usually the result of a change in the valve’s structure or an infection.

Infective endocarditis and rheumatic fever are the two common infections that cause valve disease. Rheumatic fever causes heart valve leaflets to become inflamed and may cause the leaflets to stick together and become scarred, rigid, thickened or shortened. Additionally, it may cause one of the valves to become stenotic or leaky.

Endocarditis is a life-threatening infection that results when germs attach to the heart valves’ surface. Endocarditis can cause growths on the valves, holes or scarring of the valve tissue or the valves to leak or become stenotic.

Coronary artery disease, heart attacks, cardiomyopathy, syphilis, hypertension, aortic aneurysms, connective tissue diseases, tumors and some types of medications and radiation can also cause valve disease.

The structure of the valve can be caused from heart attack, a heart valve infection or trauma.