Valvular Heart Disease | Heart and Vascular

Heart and Vascular Care

Valvular Heart Disease

Our heart disease specialists are experts at assessing your heart valve function and blood flow. Whether you need medication or surgical care, we work with you to develop an optimal treatment plan.

Medically reviewed on June 16, 2023.

Male nurse listening to older woman’s heart with a stethoscope

Types of Valvular Heart Disease

Valvular heart diseases are conditions that affect your blood flow because of a problem with one or more of your four heart valves:

  • Aortic
  • Mitral
  • Pulmonary
  • Tricuspid

What Is Valvular Heart Disease?

Heart valve disease can take on several forms. Valvular heart disease may stem from a valve that is so narrow it obstructs your normal blood flow. This is known as stenosis.

Heart valves have leaflets, or cusps, which control the blood flow. When a valve’s leaflets do not seal correctly, it can cause a backflow of blood, called regurgitation.

A third category of valvular heart disease is known as atresia. This is an abnormal condition at birth, in which the valve does not have an opening but rather a solid piece of tissue. This tissue blocks your blood flow. 


Symptoms of Valvular Heart Disease

Heart valve disease symptoms can range from mild to severe. In some cases, you may not experience any symptoms.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms of valvular heart diseases in adults may be like other conditions. It’s helpful for you to share with your physician if symptoms occur at rest or with activity, how long they last and how intense they are.

Some common symptoms of valve diseases include:

  • Difficulty breathing, especially with exercise or exertion
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Abnormal or increasing fatigue
  • Rapid or uneven heart rhythm
  • Heart murmur or a swooshing sound in your heartbeat
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Fever, which may signal and underlying infection

Emergency Symptoms

You should call 911 immediately if you experience symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain or pressure.


Causes and Risk Factors of Valvular Heart Disease

You may have been born with an abnormal heart valve. You can also develop valvular heart disease due to aging and other factors.  

Contributors to heart valve disease include:  

Older Age

As you age, your valves may develop calcium deposits or plaque.

Family History

Some heart valve diseases run in families. A family history of coronary heart disease can increase your risk.


Being sedentary, smoking or eating an unhealthy diet can all contribute to valvular heart disease.

Implanted Cardiac Devices

If you have an implanted pacemaker or defibrillator, it can cause scar tissue that may raise your risk of heart valve disease.

Other Medical Conditions

Other medical conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and certain autoimmune disorders can increase your risks.

Radiation Therapy

Having radiation treatments for cancer can cause you to have thickened and narrow heart valves.

Heart Inflammation

Conditions like rheumatic heart disease or endocarditis increase inflammation and your risk of valvular heart disease. 


Diagnosis of Valvular Heart Disease

Your physician will do a thorough evaluation with you, including asking about your medical history, risk factors and symptoms. 

As part of your physical examination, your physician will listen to your heart and do an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), which records your heart’s electrical activity. 

Valvular heart diseases are often diagnosed with an echocardiogram. This is a painless test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of your heart chamber and valves.

Treatments of Valvular Heart Disease

Your physician will discuss various treatment options with you and develop a customized plan based on your underlying condition.


Your physician may prescribe medications to:

  • Ease the workload on your heart (blood pressure medications)
  • Control your heart rate or rhythm (anti-arrhythmic medications)
  • Reduce heart inflammation or prevent rheumatic fever (antibiotics)
  • Thin your blood to prevent blood clots (anti-coagulants)
Heart Valve Repair

UC Davis Health’s structural heart disease specialists are known worldwide for our expertise in repairing heart valves. We have both surgical and nonsurgical repair options.

Depending on your condition, our experts may be able to repair your valves using minimally invasive procedures. These advanced techniques can sew or stretch damaged valves, remove calcium deposits or other blockages, or repair supporting structures. 

Surgical Heart Valve Replacement

Your physician may recommend surgery to replace your damaged heart valve using either a mechanical or donated tissue valve.

Our team will evaluate if we can replace your valve using minimally invasive surgery. We will discuss the risks and rewards of that approach versus open-heart surgery with you.


Preventing Valvular Heart Disease

You and your physician will discuss ways that you can lower your risk of developing heart valve disease as an adult. 

These may include steps such as:

  • Increasing your physical activity
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Following your physician’s instructions when treating an infection

Who has valvular heart disease?

2.5% Of the U.S. population

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Valvular Heart Disease

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