About Your Heart


The valves of the heart are located within the chambers of the heart and are critical to the proper flow of blood through the heart. All of the valves, when functioning normally, act as one-way valves, allowing blood to flow either from one chamber to another, or allowing blood to flow out of the heart, in only one direction. The valves control the flow of blood through the heart by opening and closing during the contractions of the heart. The opening and closing functions of the valves are controlled by pressure differences generated within the heart, as well as some muscles located within the heart.

The four valves are known as:

  1. The tricuspid valve
  2. The pulmonic or pulmonary valve
  3. The mitral valve
  4. The aortic valve

What is Heart Valve Disease?
Heart valve disease occurs when a valve doesn't work right. A valve may not open all the way. Or, a valve may have problems closing. If this happens, blood doesn't move through the heart's chambers the way it should.

If a valve doesn't open all the way, less blood moves through to the next chamber. If a valve doesn't close tightly, blood may leak backward. These problems may mean that the heart must work harder to pump the same amount of blood. Or, blood may back up in the lungs or body because it's not moving through the heart as it should.

Problems Opening: Stenosis occurs when a valve doesn't open fully. The valve may have become hardened or stiff with calcium deposits or scarring, so it's difficult to push open. Blood has to flow through a smaller opening, so less blood gets through the valve into the next chamber.

Problems Closing: Insufficiency (also called regurgitation) results when the valve doesn't close tightly. The valve's supportive structures may be loose or torn. Or, the valve itself may have stretched or thinned. Blood may then leak back the wrong way through the valve.

About Heart Valve Surgery
During heart valve surgery, one or more valves are repaired or replaced. Repair means that the valve is mended to help it work better. Replacement means your diseased valve is removed and a new valve is inserted in its place. Though the plan for operation will be established based on pre-operative studies, the definitive decision as to whether a valve will be repaired or replaced can only be decided once surgery has begun. Your surgeon will talk with you about his or her plans for surgery and any other procedures you may need.