What is a Leaky Valve?

Lisa Nelson Health Pro
  • Lisa Nelson RD #3:  Please explain briefly what a leaking valve is and if someone chooses not to correct a "leaky valve" via surgery what's the long term prognosis?


    Dr. Shelby-Lane: A leaky valve is a condition in which the blood flow is altered by a valve that allows blood to flow backwards, otherwise known as "regurgitation". 


    Regurgitation can negatively impact the flow of blood across each of your four heart valves - aortic valve, pulmonary valve, mitral valve and tricuspid valve.


    Ultimately, leaky heart valves force the heart to "work harder" as it re-pumps blood through a valve. Over time, this can lead to several leaking heart valve symptoms and an enlarged heart.

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    Some of the most common symptoms of leaky heart valves are:


    Shortness of breath, especially with exertion or when you lie down

    Fatigue, especially during times of increased activity

    Cough, especially at night or when lying down

    Heart palpitations - sensations of a rapid, fluttering heartbeat

    Swollen feet or ankles

    Heart murmur

    Excessive urination

    Chest pain (angina) or tightness

    Feeling faint or fainting with exertion



    Leaking heart valve symptoms do not always appear, or manifest, simultaneously for a patient. Many patients can be asymptomatic even though they suffer from mild, moderate, or even severe, heart valve disease.


    If you are experiencing symptoms, it's important to know that there are a number of different heart valve diseases and valve defects that could trigger leaky heart valve symptoms. 


    That said, I highly encourage you to visit your doctor or cardiologist if you are experiencing any of the leaking heart valve symptoms identified above. Some heart valve diseases can be easily identified by listening to your heart valve sounds with a stethoscope. This is usually the first step in diagnosing a heart valve disease or leak in the valve.


    Which treatment option is right for you?


    Choosing the right treatment option is extremely important and depends on many factors. It's a decision that you should make in close cooperation with your doctor. Some of the factors you will need to consider when choosing a treatment option include:


    The benefits and risks of each type of treatment 

    Your age

    Your specific medical condition

    Other medications you may be taking

    Your lifestyle needs and goals


    Surgical Valve Repair


    When possible, it is often preferable to surgically repair the patient's valve rather than to replace it with a prosthetic device. Valve repair usually involves the surgeon modifying the tissue or underlying structures of the mitral or tricuspid valve and implanting an annuloplasty ring or band.  Aortic valves are rarely repaired.


    If the diseased native (original) heart valve cannot be repaired, the surgeon may choose to replace it. The first step is to remove the diseased valve and then implant a prosthetic valve in its place. Prosthetic valves used to replace the heart's natural valves come in different sizes to fit the patient and are made from a variety of materials.


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    There are two main types of prosthetic heart valves:


    Tissue (bioprosthetic) valves - made primarily from animal tissue [i.e., bovine pericardium (the sac surrounding a cow's heart), a pig's aortic (porcine) valve or human valves from cadavers]

    Mechanical valves - created from synthetic (man-made) materials


    You may want to research more about Edwards aortic valve replacement products and mitral valve replacement products.


    To learn more about Dr. Cynthia Shelby-Lane, you can check out the services she offers at www.elanantiaging.meta-ehealth.com.


    Lisa Nelson RD would love to have you sign-up for The Heart of Health free ezine to receive regular heart health and weight loss tips.  Select the free e-course How to Lower Cholesterol in 8 Simple Steps or free report Stop Wasting Money - Take Control of Your Health when you subscribe.

Published On: February 25, 2009