Your heart is a complex pump made of muscle tissue, arteries and heart valves. In order to keep the blood flowing forward through the heart and blood vessels, valves between each of the heart’s pumping chambers must function normally. Valves should open easily, allow blood to flow across, then close and stop blood from flowing backward.
Four types of valves keep the heart pumping smoothly and may require repair or replacement:
- The tricuspid valve is located between the right atrium and the right ventricle;
- The pulmonary (or pulmonic) valve is located between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery;
- The mitral valve is located between the left atrium and the left ventricle and;
- The aortic valve is located between the left ventricle and the aorta.
If a valve does not open correctly or is narrow, it is called stenosis. If a valve does not close correctly it is “insufficient” or has “regurgitation”. Either stenosis or insufficiency can interfere with blood moving through the circulatory system.
If the heart valve(s) becomes damaged or diseased, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Chest pain;
- Breathing difficulties;
- Edema (swelling) of the feet, ankles, or abdomen and;
- Rapid weight gain due to fluid retention.
Repair or replacement of heart valves usually means open-heart surgery. However, newer, less invasive techniques have been developed to replace or repair heart valves and may be appropriate in certain situations.