Widespread and unknown

What is heart
valve disease?

Heart valves and heart valve disease

Heart valve disease affects more than 5 million people in the US, with roughly 25,000 deaths each year.

Your heart has four valves that help blood flow through your body. When your heart is healthy, your valve flaps open and close properly to keep blood flowing in the right direction. As you get older, one or more of your valves can stop working as well, which makes it harder for your heart to pump blood through your body. This condition is called heart valve disease and there are many types.

Patient getting an echocardiogram while smiling at loved one.

Don't wait, ask your doctor for an echocardiogram.

Although it’s more common in people over 65, heart valve disease can happen at any age. If you don’t do anything about it, heart valve disease can get worse and even lead to death.

Healthy heartvalve

A normal, healthy valve opens to let bloodflow through, then quickly closes so blooddoesn’t flow back into your heart.

Normal, open aortic valve.

Normal aortic valve

Unhealthy heartvalve

An unhealthy valve can be either leaky ortight, making your heart work harder tokeep blood flowing.

Diseased aortic valve.

Aortic valve stenosis

Recognize the symptoms

There’s no way to prevent heart valve disease, so it’s important to recognize the often subtle symptoms in yourself or a loved one. Don’t mistake them as just a part of getting older. Remember, symptoms are your heart’s way of telling you something is wrong.

Listen to your heart to recognize the symptoms of heart valve disease, no matter how subtle

Yellow L on blue background with lightheaded icon.

Lightheaded, faint, or dizzy feelings

Yellow I on blue background with heart icon.

Irregular heartbeat, heart flutter, or chest pains

Yellow S on blue background with lungs short of breath icon.

Shortness of breath after light activity or while lying down

Yellow T on blue background with tiredness icon.

Tiredness, even if they've had plenty of sleep

Yellow E on blue background with swollen ankles icon.

Edema (swelling of the ankles and feet)

Yellow N on blue background with magnifying glass, not feeling like yourself icon.

Not feeling like themselves (missing out on daily activities)

Heart valve disease doesn't always come with symptoms.

Sometimes you can have heart valve disease and not have any symptoms. Other diseases, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), have similar symptoms. This is why it's so important to ask your doctor for an echocardiogram. It’s the only sure way to tell if you or a loved one has heart valve disease, especially if there aren’t any symptoms.

What causes heart valve disease?

There's no one cause of heart valve disease, but it’s important to know what can put you at risk:

Blue 65+ on white and yellow background.

Older age. People 65 and older are at a significantly higher risk

Family tree on white and yellow background.

Family history of heart disease or heart valve disease

Kidneys on white and yellow background.

Chronic kidney disease

Heart-shaped hourglass on white and yellow background.

Personal history of heart conditions or heart infections

Heart with warning icon on white and yellow background.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and other heart disease risk factors

Baby with heart on white and yellow background.

Heart conditions since birth (congenital heart disease)

Less common risk factors for heart valve disease are tumors, certain medicines, and radiation.

The most common types of heart valve disease

Your heart has four valves: aortic, mitral, tricuspid, and pulmonary. All 4 of them can develop different kinds of heart valve disease, including:

The most common types of heart valve disease are aortic stenosis, aortic regurgitation (insufficiency), mitral regurgitation, and tricuspid regurgitation.

Wife holding arm of symptomatic husband.

Up to 50% of people with severe aortic stenosis will die within two years after symptoms begin if left untreated.

So, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible and ask for an echocardiogram. Every type of heart valve disease gets worse over time—the sooner you talk to a doctor, the sooner you’ll know exactly what’s going on.

Next section

Worried about yourself or a loved one?


Already signed up? Manage your subscription
We’ve received your information. You should get a confirmation email shortly. Be sure to check your junk mail folder.