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.
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.
Heart Valve Types
The heart has four valves, each equipped with tissue flaps (leaflets) to control the steps involved in blood circulation:
- The right atrium collects oxygen-depleted blood from the body.
- The tricuspid valve opens to allow the blood into the right ventricle, then closes.
- The pulmonary valve opens so the blood can flow into the pulmonary artery toward the lungs, then closes.
- Oxygen-rich blood returns from the lungs via the pulmonary vein, collecting in the heart’s left atrium.
- The mitral valve opens to let the blood into the left ventricle, then closes.
- 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:
Watch cardiologist Mark Vesely, MD, explain how your heart functions similarly to a house: