About Heart Valves
The heart is a muscular organ that is separated into four chambers: two upper chambers—the right and left atria, and two lower chambers—the right and left ventricles. With the aid of the four heart valves opening and closing with each heartbeat, blood flows through the four chambers of the heart in one direction: forward.
- Tricuspid valve: regulates blood flow between the right atrium and the right ventricle
- Pulmonary valve: regulates blood flow from the right ventricle to the pulmonary arteries, which carry blood to the lungs where the blood picks up oxygen
- Mitral valve: regulates the flow of oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to pass from the left atrium to the left ventricle
- Aortic valve: regulates oxygen-rich blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta, where blood is delivered to the rest of the body.
The tricuspid and mitral valves are referred to as atrioventricular valves because they are located between the atria and the ventricles. The pulmonary and aortic valves are referred to as semilunar valves because the cusps of the valves are shaped like half moons. Each valve has three cusps or leaflets, except for the mitral valve, which has two cusps or leaflets.
The heart sounds that you hear ("lub-dub") are made by the closing of the heart valves. The "lub" sound is made by the contraction or squeezing of the ventricles and the closing of the atrioventricular valves. The "dub" sound is made by contraction or squeezing of the atria and the closing of the semilunar valves.
The heart cycle or circulation consists of the right and left atria simultaneously receiving blood coming to the heart and simultaneously contracting to pump blood into the ventricles. The powerful ventricles simultaneously receive blood from the atria and simultaneously contract to pump blood away from the heart.
Right Side of the Heart
The right atrium receives deoxygenated blood from the body through the superior and inferior vena cava. The blood from the right atrium passes through the tricuspid valve and enters the right ventricle. This slow filling of the right ventricle is referred to as diastole. When the right ventricle is full of blood, the tricuspid valve closes and the right ventricle begins to contract. The contracting of the right ventricle is referred to as systole. Systole causes the pulmonary valve to open allowing the right ventricle to pump deoxygenated blood into the pulmonary artery where the blood enters the lungs and receives a fresh supply of oxygen.
Left Side of the Heart
The left atrium receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs through the pulmonary vein. The blood from the left atrium passes through the mitral valve and enters the left ventricle. This slow filling of the left ventricle is referred to as diastole. When the left ventricle is full of blood, the mitral valve closes and the left ventricle begins to contract. The contracting of the left ventricle is referred to as systole. Systole causes the aortic valve to open allowing the left ventricle to pump oxygen-rich blood through the aortic valve to the aorta and then to the rest of the body.
Heart Valve Disease
There are two main diseases or malfunctions of heart valves—regurgitation (valve does not close tightly) and stenosis (valve does not open fully). Regurgitation and stenosis disrupt the heart cycle because the heart valves fail to open and close properly resulting in improper blood flow through the heart.
- Regurgitation (or insufficiency): The valve does not close completely, causing the blood to flow backward instead of forward through the valve. This improper flow may cause blood to back up into the lungs and body.
- Stenosis: The valve opening does not open wide enough, inhibiting the ability of the heart to pump blood to the body due to the increased force required to pump blood through the stiff (stenotic) valve. The heart must now work harder to pump the same amount of blood.
Causes of heart valve disease include:
- Congenital or birth defects
- Damage by rheumatic fever
- Damage from a heart attack
- A build up of calcium on the valve or calcific degeneration
- An infection in the lining of the heart walls and valves or infective endocarditis
- Normal aging process
Symptoms of heart valve disease include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Swelling of the ankles and legs
- Low or high blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeats
Heart Valve Disease Treatment
Treatment options for heart valve disease may include careful medical management and/or heart valve surgery to repair or replace the diseased heart valve. You and your physicians will determine the best treatment option based on:
- Age/overall health
- Medical history
- Location of the diseased valve
- Extent of disease
For more information regarding heart valve disease and available treatments, please contact the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 1-866-662-8467 or request a first time appointment online.