linked in pixel
Doctor pointing to a 3D heart model

Understanding Heart Valves and the Impact if One Malfunctions

Pinterest Logo

Put your hand on your chest. Can you feel your heart beating? That’s your heart doing its job: pumping blood to all the organs of your body, ensuring they receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to function.

Within your heart, there are four main valves: the mitral, tricuspid, aortic and pulmonary valves. These valves act as gatekeepers, regulating the flow of blood in the right direction. Picture a beach ball. When you inflate it, the valve allows air in one direction but prevents it from escaping. Similarly, heart valves ensure blood flows forward, preventing any backflow.

So, what happens to your heart when you have a problem with one (or more) of your heart valves?

Common issues include stenosis, where the valve becomes too narrow, or regurgitation, where the valve leaks. If the valve is leaking, your heart must work extra hard to pump blood. In the case of leakage, your heart must work harder to compensate for the loss of blood flow. Imagine blowing up a leaky beach ball – you'd have to exert extra effort to maintain inflation. In other words, your heart is putting in overtime to pump blood if your valve is leaking or too narrow for all the blood to travel through.

Symptoms start to arise when the heart is no longer able to deliver blood to all the organs. Depending on which heart valve is in trouble, some symptoms will be more evident than others and may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Leg swelling

To diagnose a heart valve problem, a doctor listens to your heart with a stethoscope so they can hear the sounds the valves make when they open and close. If a heart valve problem is suspected, the next step is to order an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of your heart, to confirm.

What treatment options are available?

Treatment options include:

  • Medication
  • Valve repair
  • Valve replacement

Many valve problems can be managed using medications to make the heart more efficient despite the valve problem. In some cases, medication does not work so the heart valve needs to either be repaired or replaced. 

For many years, surgeons performed different open-heart procedures to repair or replace heart valves. Recently, a new technique called trans catheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) has proven to be a good solution for certain patients with aortic stenosis, narrow heart valves.

What are the benefits of a TAVR?

TAVR has revolutionized the treatment of aortic stenosis. During this procedure, a new aortic valve is inserted in your heart through a very small incision in the leg. The new valve essentially replaces the old narrow valve in the aortic position. By minimizing the invasiveness of the procedure, most patients have a quick recovery and can go home as early as the next day after the procedure.

If you notice any unusual symptoms, it's crucial to heed your body's signals and seek medical attention promptly. Listening to your heart – both literally and figuratively – can lead to timely diagnosis and effective treatment, ensuring your heart continues to beat strong and steady.

You may also be interested in: