Center for Heart Valve Disease

What do heart valves do?

The heart is a muscular organ that is separated into four chambers: two upper chambers—the right and left atria, and two lower chambers—the right and left ventricles. With the aid of the four heart valves opening and closing with each heartbeat, blood flows through the four chambers of the heart in one direction…forward.

Every heartbeat is the sound of the four valves of the heart (tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral and aortic) opening and closing as blood moves through your heart and to the rest of your body.

  • Tricuspid valve: Regulates blood flow between the right atrium and the right ventricle
  • Pulmonary valve: Regulates blood flow from the right ventricle to the pulmonary arteries, which carry blood to the lungs where the blood picks up oxygen
  • Mitral valve: Regulates the flow of oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to pass from the left atrium to the left ventricle
  • Aortic valve: Regulates oxygen-rich blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta, where blood is delivered to the rest of the body

What is heart valve disease?

Heart valve disease is any condition that prevents your valves from functioning properly. It is the third most common cause of heart problems in the United States, and includes a variety of conditions and symptoms.

Each person experiences heart valve disease signs and symptoms differently—from a mild heart valve defect that goes unnoticed to more serious damage that may cause chest pain, irregular heartbeats, migraines, fatigue, dizziness, abnormal blood pressure and shortness of breath.

Women and Heart Valve Disease

Women develop problems with the heart valves just as often as men do and at all ages. In fact, there are some types of heart valve problems, such as abnormalities resulting from rheumatic fever and mitral valve prolapse, which occur more often in women. Heart valve disease is a particular challenge for women of childbearing age, since in severe cases it may increase the risk of pregnancy for mother and baby.

Causes of heart valve disease

  • Normal aging process
  • Congenital (born with) heart valve defects
  • Damage from a heart attack
  • Damage by rheumatic fever (inflammatory disease that may develop after an infection with streptococcus bacteria—such as strep throat or scarlet fever)
  • Hypercholesterolemia (buildup of calcium on the valve or calcific degeneration)
  • Infective endocarditis (infection in the lining of the heart walls and valves)

Diagnosing heart valve disease

Accurately diagnosing heart valve disease is key to starting proper treatments. Our patients benefit from sophisticated technology that can detect and reveal types of heart valve disease even before symptoms occur. This includes state-of-the-art imaging like echocardiography, computerized tomography (CT) scan and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Meet the Teams

Our goal at the Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is to achieve superior results for all of our patients and to help them return to normal activities while improving their overall quality of life.

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Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Top 10 in the nation in Cardiology & Heart Surgery (7th)

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