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Valvular Heart Disease

What do heart valves do?

The four valves in your heart are made of thin (but strong) flaps of tissue that open and close as your heart pumps. They open and close over 100,000 times each day. They are there to make sure that blood flows through your heart the right way.

What causes heart valve problems?

In most people, the heart valves work perfectly, day after day. But age, heart problems and diseases such as rheumatic fever and infections can cause damage the heart valves. Sometimes people are born with malformed heart valves.

What are the types of heart valve problems?

Sometimes, age or disease can prevent heart valves from opening properly. The valves become narrower and this narrowing is called stenosis. As the opening narrows, the heart can't push as much blood through as before. As a result the heart has to work harder to pump the same amount of blood. This can lead to an increase in the size of the heart muscle and can eventually lead to heart failure.

Sometimes, a heart valve does not close properly. This is called a leaking heart valve or regurgitation. This can reduce the heart's pumping action. When the heart contracts, some blood leaks backward through the damaged valve. This limits the heart's ability to supply the body with blood.

What can be done?

Heart valve problems can be treated in a number of ways. Your doctor will decide on the best treatment for you. Some people can be treated with medications and by living a healthy lifestyle. But in some cases, an operation may be needed to repair or replace the damaged heart valve.

This material is for information purposes only. It should not be used in place of medical advice, instruction and/or treatment. If you have specific questions, please consult your doctor or appropriate health care provider.

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