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Heart valve disease

Leaky or narrowed heart valves stop your heart from effectively pumping blood. Find out what symptoms this can cause, what a murmur is and common causes of heart valve disease.

Learn the names of the different parts of the heart

Your heart is a pump with four chambers and four valves. Each valve works like a one-way door to make sure enough blood flows into the next part of the heart and to the rest of the body, including the heart muscle. Learn more about how a healthy heart works.

When heart valves become diseased or damaged, they may not fully open or close. This makes it hard for your heart to pump properly. Your heart may try to make up for this by pumping harder to keep enough blood moving around your body. This can cause other heart problems as your heart muscle becomes overworked.

Types of heart valve disease

There are two types of heart valve disease: stenosis and regurgitation. Some people may have a combination of both.

Stenosis is when your valve doesn't open properly. This means pressure and blood can back up, causing strain on your heart.

Regurgitation (also called insufficiency) is when your valve doesn't close properly. This lets blood leak back through your valve, rather than forcing it in one direction only, and forces your heart to work harder to keep enough blood circulating around your body.

Difference between stenosis and regurgitation heart diagram

What causes heart valve disease?

It's not always possible to tell what has caused your heart valve disease, but common causes include:

  • Being born with a damaged valve or valves (congenital heart disease)
  • Valve damage and scarring from rheumatic fever (rheumatic heart disease)
  • Ageing of the heart valves
  • A history of heart valve infection (endocarditis). 

Symptoms of heart valve disease

A murmur is a sound that can occur when blood flows through a heart valve that doesn’t open or close properly. This is often one of the first signs of heart valve disease.

Valve disease may have mild, moderate, or severe symptoms. If left untreated, heart valve disease ultimately results in heart failure.

Symptoms of heart valve disease can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe swelling
  • Palpitations, rapid thumping or a pounding sensation in your chest
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting or light-headedness

If you experience any of these symptoms, please contact your doctor.

Tests to identify heart valve disease

To accurately diagnose valve disease, your doctor may ask you to have some heart tests:

How to treat heart valve disease

Many people with heart valve disease need little or no treatment and can have a good quality of life for many years. Regular check-ups including an echocardiogram may be all you need.

The sort of treatment you need depends on:

  • Which valve(s) is affected
  • How many valves are affected
  • How badly the valve(s) is affected
  • How well your heart muscle is coping
  • Your symptoms and general health.

Common treatments for heart valve disease include:

  • Taking medications
  • Open heart surgery to repair or replace a valve
  • Valvuloplasty (using a balloon to widen a narrowed heart valve)
  • Transcatheter aortic valve implantation, TAVI (putting in a new valve without removing the old valve)

Want to read more? Download a copy of our booklet Staying well with heart valve disease

Learn what's involved with heart valve surgery