Problems and Causes (Heart Valve Disease)

Aortic valve

Click to view an animation of the aortic valve in action.


It goes without saying that problems with the function of your heart valves can be serious and even fatal. There are several types of common valve problems and many different causes for problems associated with their efficiency.

Valve stenosis

Stenosis is the term used to describe a valve that does not open correctly. At times, the valves flaps (also called leaflets) can thicken or even fuse together impeding their ability to open and close as necessary to allow for effective blood flow. This can lead to a lack of oxygenated blood flowing into the body. Stenosis can be caused by age. Rarely, people can be born with a malformed valve that doesn't open and close properly.

Aortic valve stenosis is one of the most common and serious valve problems. Most commonly, aortic valve stenosis develops in the elderly through the buildup of calcium around the valve. Some people are born with aortic stenosis as a congenital heart defect.

Pulmonary valve stenosis is most commonly a result of a congenital heart defect. Because of this, it is rare in adults as it is most commonly diagnosed in childhood by the presence of a murmur.

Mitral valve and tricuspid valve stenosis are less common and almost always result from rheumatic fever, occurring after a bought of untreated streptococcal infection i.e. "strep throat". Due to easy access to antibiotics in the United States, these valve diseases are less common.

Mitral valve prolapse

Mitral valve prolapse, or MVP, is the term that refers to incorrect function of the two valve flaps in the mitral valve that controls blood flow between the left atrium and ventricle. MVP is frequently without symptoms but can be detected as a murmur during a routine physical exam. In most cases, it's harmless. According to the American Heart Association, MVP occurs in 2 to 3 percent of the population.

Mitral valve syndrome is the term coined for those that do experience symptoms of MVP. Those symptoms include chest pain, dizziness, fatigue, heart palpitations or shortness of breath. When leakage though the mitral valve becomes severe, it may require mitral valve surgery for repair or replacement.

Heart valve regurgitation

Valve regurgitation is also known as leaking heart valves. This occurs when the valve leaflets are closing and blood flows back trough the valve. It can also happen when the valves are entirely closed but they allow flood to leak. A leaking valve forces the heart to work harder to pump blood. Depending on the severity of the valve leak, it may need to be repaired or replaced surgically.

Our surgeons who treat this condition

This information is provided by the Department of Surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. It is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.