Heart valve disease: What is it?

When one or more of the four heart valves malfunction, it can cause heart valve disease, which can be mild or severe.

“Patients with mild heart valve disease can have long and otherwise healthy lives. In advanced cases, patients are at risk of developing infections and complications such as heart failure and stroke,” says Dr Victor Chao, Senior Consultant, Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), a member of the SingHealth group.

Different types of heart valve problems

There are three main heart valve problems:

  • Regurgitation or leaky valve: This is backflow of blood because the valve doesn’t close properly. A valve prolapse, when the leaflets (small flaps of tissue that make up a valve) bulge into the upper heart chamber during contraction, can prevent the valve from closing properly. Mitral valve prolapse is a common type of valve prolapse.
  • Stenosis: This occurs when the valve’s leaflets thicken, stiffen or fuse causing the opening to narrow.
  • Atresia: This occurs when the valve doesn’t open at all, which prevents blood from passing through.

“Problems such as regurgitation and stenosis with one or more valves cause the heart to work harder to circulate blood to the body,” says Dr Chao.

Causes of heart valve disease

Heart valve disease can be present from birth (congenital) or it can develop during your lifetime (acquired) when healthy heart valves malfunction due to factors such as ageing, injury, infection and disease.

Congenital heart valve disease: This may be caused by abnormal valve size or shape, or an irregularity in the leaflets. This condition commonly affects the aortic or pulmonic valves, which control blood flow from the heart to the body.

Acquired heart valve disease: This condition may be caused by the following medical conditions:

  • Degeneration due to ageing
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Infective endocarditis
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • Cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease)
  • Hypertension
  • Aortic aneurysms
  • Connective tissue diseases, e.g. Marfan’s syndrome and myxomatous degeneration

“Ageing can cause calcium to accumulate on the heart valves, usually the aortic valve. This can develop into aortic stenosis,” says Dr Chao.

Read on for the symptoms and treatment of heart valve disease.

Ref: Q15