A large crowd of people.

A deadly condition that
affects millions

What is heart
valve disease?

Heart valves and heart valve disease

11.6 million Americans have heart valve disease. But 3 out of 4 Americans know little to nothing about it.1

Your heart is a vital organ consisting of 4 valves that help blood flow through your body. When your heart is healthy, your valve leaflets, or flaps, open and close properly to keep blood flowing in the right direction. As you get older, you can develop heart valve disease, and one or more of your valves may stop working properly. This makes it harder for your heart to pump blood through your body.

About 1 in 40 people in the US have heart valve disease.2 Although it’s more common in people over 65, heart valve disease can happen at any age. Heart valve disease can get worse over time, and if nothing is done to treat the disease, it may even lead to death.

About your heart valves

Your heart works hard every second of the day, pumping blood throughout your body. The heart is about the size of a fist and has 4 chambers (2 upper chambers and 2 lower chambers) and 4 valves.

The valves have thin flaps called leaflets that act as one-way doors that open and close with each heartbeat. The leaflets ensure that the blood flows smoothly in the right direction and close tightly to prevent the blood from flowing backwards.

Four different heart valves

Tricuspid valve:

This valve is located on the right side of the heart and controls the flow of blood from the top right chamber to the bottom right chamber.

Pulmonary valve:

Located on the right side of the heart, the pulmonary valve controls the flow of blood from the bottom right chamber to the pulmonary artery.

Mitral valve:

This valve is located on the left side of the heart and controls the flow of blood from the top left chamber to the bottom left chamber.

Aortic valve:

Located on the left side of the heart, the aortic valve controls the flow of blood from the bottom left chamber to the aorta, which is the main artery that carries blood away from your heart to the rest of your body.

Types of heart valve disease

Heart valve disease, also referred to as valvular heart disease, is when 1 of the 4 valves in the heart becomes damaged or diseased, which can severely compromise the heart’s ability to pump efficiently.

The causes of heart valve disease typically include:

  • Degenerative diseases
  • Congenital defects
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Endocarditis

Any one of these conditions can damage the heart valves, which can lead to arrythmias and, eventually, heart failure. 

There are different types of valve disease—the 2 most common are valve stenosis and valve regurgitation.

Valve Stenosis3

Valve stenosis occurs when your valve leaflets become stiff or fuse together, preventing the valve from opening fully. When the opening of the valve gets smaller, this restricts blood flow, which means your heart needs to work harder to pump blood to the rest of your body.

Valve Regurgitation4

Also referred to as “leaky valve,” valve regurgitation happens when the valve leaflets do not close properly, causing blood to flow or “leak” back through the valve into the chambers. As a result, your heart must work harder to push the blood back out.

The most dangerous type of heart valve disease

Up to 50% of people with severe aortic stenosis may die within 2 years after symptoms begin if left untreated5

Aortic stenosis (AS), one of the most common types of heart valve disease, affects millions in the US alone. It’s especially common in people aged 65 years and older and affects 1 in 8 people older than 75 years. 

Aortic stenosis is when the valve leaflets become stiff over time due to calcium buildup. The valve cannot fully open and close like it should, and as the opening becomes smaller, it gets harder for the heart to pump blood, which can affect your overall health. Aortic stenosis is also called aortic valve stenosis and aorta stenosis.

When the leaflets of your aortic valve don’t fully open, your heart must work harder to push blood to your body.

Aortic stenosis gets worse over time

Aortic stenosis is a progressive disease that worsens over time. Once aortic stenosis becomes severe, you may develop symptoms from your heart working so hard. This is called severe symptomatic aortic stenosis (sSAS), also known as heart valve failure. If you have heart valve failure, you should seek treatment right away.

Learn about treatment options

Subtle, not silent. Getting an echo is the best way to know

Don’t wait. Talk to a doctor today about getting your heart screened with an echo.

Speak with your doctor

Are you at risk for heart valve disease?

Heart valve disease is a critical health issue that worsens with age, especially if you are aged 65 years or older. Do you know if you’re at risk?

Take a risk assessment

Have you talked to your doctor about heart valve disease?

Use these tools to help start a conversation with your doctor or to find a location for a heart screening.

Discussion Guide

Our full discussion guide can help you talk about heart valve disease and your symptoms with your doctor during in-person appointments.

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Use this Healthgrades® tool to find a doctor in your area who can screen your heart for heart valve disease.

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References: 1. Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day. Learn About Valve Disease. Accessed October 17, 2023. https://www.valvediseaseday.org/learn-about-valve-disease/ 2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Valvular heart disease. Accessed September 20, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/valvular_disease.htm 3. American Heart Association. Problem: Heart valve stenosis. Accessed September 25, 2023. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-valve-problems-and-disease/heart-valve-problems-and-causes/problem-heart-valve-stenosis 4. American Heart Association. Problem: Heart valve regurgitation. Accessed September 25, 2023. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-valve-problems-and-disease/heart-valve-problems-and-causes/problem-heart-valve-regurgitation 5. Otto C. Timing of aortic valve surgery. Heart. 2000;84(2):211-218.

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