Valve Disease

At the University of Maryland Heart and Vascular Center, our experienced doctors specialize in treating complex forms of heart valve disease, as well as more common problems.

What is Valve Disease?

Heart valves play a critical role in your circulation: opening to fill the next cardiac chamber or vessel with blood, then closing to prevent backward flow. But this balance is disrupted if the valves do not work like they should.

Some valve glitches do not cause symptoms or harm health — many people never realize anything is wrong. Other problems can strain and eventually damage the heart. Even then, most valve conditions are highly treatable. Causes include:

While valve disease is less common than high blood pressure or diseased arteries, it is a growing challenge because of our aging population and greater life expectancy.

Heart Valve Types

The heart has four valves, each equipped with tissue flaps (leaflets) to control the steps involved in blood circulation:

  1. The right atrium collects oxygen-depleted blood from the body.

  2. The tricuspid valve opens to allow the blood into the right ventricle, then closes.

  3. The pulmonary valve opens so the blood can flow into the pulmonary artery toward the lungs, then closes.

  4. Oxygen-rich blood returns from the lungs via the pulmonary vein, collecting in the heart’s left atrium.

  5. The mitral valve opens to let the blood into the left ventricle, then closes.

  6. The aortic valve opens as the heart pumps the oxygen-rich blood into the aorta (the main artery) for delivery throughout the body, then closes.

The mitral and aortic valves are the most susceptible to damage or disease and represent the bulk of our cases. Learn more about:

Heart Murmurs and Valve Disease

A common reason a patient is referred to a heart specialist is when a doctor hears a heart murmur. This may sound like a “whoosh” caused by blood flowing under pressure, or an extra “click” when blood flows backward.

Some murmurs are harmless, or “innocent.” Many appear in infancy and childhood and then go away. But others may indicate a problem, often tied to a valve defect. Our doctors carefully evaluate each murmur to make sure nothing is missed. Some valve problems are caused by inherited genetic conditions. Learn more about our cardiogenetic testing.

Diagnosing Valve Disease

The doctors at our University of Maryland Heart Center provide timely and accurate diagnoses of heart valve problems, using precise and sophisticated tools. We use 3D transesophageal electrocardiography (TEE) is the most advanced technology available, with a throat probe creating highly detailed images in three dimensions. We may also use a special contrast solution for even better clarity and definition.

These tests help our team determine what treatment is necessary, if any. They also help us assess your risk for developing more severe disease. Patients usually come to us if they are experiencing symptoms or if another doctor has noticed a heart murmur.

Evaluating a suspected heart valve problem always begins by listening to your heart with a stethoscope. From there, our team use several types of tests to evaluate your heart’s appearance and function, as well as any strain or damage. Learn more about cardiac diagnosis.

Bicuspid Aortic Valves

As much as 2 percent of the population is born with two of the aortic valve’s three flaps fused together. Having a bicuspid aortic valve means blood has to flow through a smaller opening. Learn more about the potential problems this can cause:

Valve Endocarditis

Bacteria can sometimes enter the bloodstream and invade blood vessels, the heart’s lining or its valves. While infective (or bacterial) endocarditis is uncommon, there are several factors that increase the chances of developing it in a valve:

  • Valve repairs and replacements

  • Calcium deposits on the aortic and mitral valves from aging (learn more about valve stenosis)

  • Injecting illegal drugs (mainly a problem for the tricuspid valve)

  • Birth defects (the main risk factor for children and young adults)

Infections are treated with antibiotics, and our doctors have experience caring for patients with the condition — especially those with mitral valve endocarditis. They also take special precautions during surgeries. Learn more about the valve disease program.

For more information or to make an appointment, please call 1-866-408-6885.

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