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The heart valves serve a vital role in regulating the rate and direction of blood flow through the heart. A damaged or diseased valve can severely compromise the heart's ability to pump efficiently. This places additional strain on the heart and, over time, may result in arrhythmias and heart failure.
Individuals with heart valve disease may experience one of several symptoms including shortness of breath or palpitations. In some cases, patients experience no symptoms at all. The causes of heart valve disease typically include degenerative diseases such as congenital defects, and rheumatic fever or endocarditis, severe infections that can damage or scar the heart valves and prevent them from working properly.
The Role of the Heart Valves
The heart is made up of four chambers, two on the right and two on the left. These chambers are known as the atria and ventricles. Each side of the heart has one atrium and one ventricle. The ventricles are the chambers of the heart that pump the blood out of the heart. The atria are the chambers that receive the blood flowing back into the heart.
The heart's valves lie at the exit of each of the four heart chambers and are critical to the proper flow of blood through the heart. When functioning normally, the heart valves allow blood to flow either from one chamber to another, or out of the heart in a forward direction. The four heart valves are the:
Types of Heart Valve Disease
There are several conditions that can impact the overall performance and function of the heart valves. Chief among these is heart valve disease. When an individual is diagnosed with heart valve disease, it is typically the result of a congenital birth defect or an infection such as rheumatic fever, degenerative disease or endocarditis, which can damage or scar the heart valves and prevent them from working properly. The two types of heart valve disease are: