There are four valves in your heart. The job of the heart valves is to make sure that blood flows in the correct direction through the heart. These valves guard the entrances and exits of the two pumping chambers in your heart (the right and left ventricles). The valves between the atria and ventricles are, the mitral (on the left) and the tricuspid (on the right); their purpose is to make sure that the blood only goes into the ventricles. The valves where the blood leaves the ventricles, the aortic (on the left) and the pulmonary valves (on the right), only let blood out of the ventricle.
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Diagram dipicting the flow of blood through the heart:
Diseased or damaged Valves
A diseased or damaged valve can affect the flow of blood in two ways. If the valve does not open fully, it will obstruct the flow of blood. This is called 'valve stenosis'. If the valve does not close properly, it will allow blood to leak backwards. This is called 'valve incompetence' or 'regurgitation'. Both stenosis and incompetence put an extra strain on the heart. If you have stenosis, the valve will obstruct the flow of blood, so your heart will have to pump harder to force the blood past the obstruction. If you have incompetence, a leaking valve will mean that your heart has to do extra work to pump the required volume of blood forwards as some of it has returned to the upper chambers (atria) of the heart. If these conditions are not controlled or treated, they could lead to your heart becoming enlarged or progress to heart failure. The main causes of valvular heart disease are being born with an abnormal valve or valves (congenital heart disease), rheumatic fever and ageing of the heart.
The symptoms of valve disease vary depending on which valve is affected. People with mild valve disease may not experience many symptoms. However, increasing strain on the heart can cause tiredness or breathlessness when exercising, or palpitation. You may also experience shortness of breath, and swelling of the ankles and legs. A person with valve disease may also get chest pains (angina) because there is not enough blood flowing through the coronary arteries. If the valve disease is severe, the person may have spells of dizziness and fainting.