What is heart valve disease?
The heart has four valves, one at each exit of the four main chambers of the heart. The heart valves are swinging tissue flaps that regulate the one-way flow of blood either into or out of the heart by opening and closing with each heartbeat. Heart valve disease is a condition in which one or more of the valves in your heart aren't opening or closing the way they should, disrupting blood flow into and out of the heart.
There are several types of heart valve disease, but the two main types associated with heart failure are valvular stenosis and valvular insufficiency (or regurgitation). Valvular stenosis is the narrowing of the valve opening, causing the flap to not open fully and reducing the flow of blood through the valve. Valvular insufficiency (or regurgitation) is when the valve doesn't close tightly, allowing blood to flow or leak backward in the wrong direction.
Valve problems may be caused by inborn defects (congenital heart defects), bacterial infections and inflammation, heart enlargement, and coronary artery disease or heart attack.
How is heart valve disease related to heart failure?
If you have narrowed heart valves, your heart has to work harder to pump blood through the tighter heart valve, which can cause the muscle wall of the heart's pumping chambers to become progressively thicker.21 If you have a leaky heart valve, your heart is unable to pump out blood efficiently because some of the pumped blood is being leaked back through the improperly closing valve, forcing your heart to pump it out again. This added stress causes the muscle wall of the pumping chambers to stretch and weaken. Over time, a narrowed or leaky heart valve can cause the heart to lose its ability to pump blood as well as it should, eventually leading to heart failure.
How does heart valve disease affect my risk of developing heart failure?
Heart valve disease increases your risk of developing heart failure, but it's a less common cause of heart failure than in previous decades.1, 22 In the Framingham Heart Study, heart valve disease accounted for about 8% of heart failure cases.23 There are only a few studies that examine heart valve disease as a risk factor for heart failure, and even fewer studies that are specific to women. About 50% of adults with valve disease develop heart failure over a 10-year period.24, 25
What can I do to prevent heart failure if I have heart valve disease?
Preventing your heart valve disease from becoming worse can reduce your chances of developing heart failure. The first step is to manage your heart valve disease by making any necessary lifestyle changes and taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor. Lifestyle changes and medications can improve your symptoms and reduce the toll on your heart. For example, heart valve disease caused by atherosclerosis can be slowed down and sometimes even reversed if you begin to address the risk factors that contribute to the plaque buildup, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
If you have severely leaking or narrowed aortic or mitral valves, you should talk to your doctor to find out if surgery to repair or replace these valves is an option for you.15 Surgery to repair the mitral valve has been shown to reduce the risk of developing heart failure.26