What Is Heart Valve Disease & Congestive Heart Failure?

Heart valve disease is when one or more of the four valves of the heart is not functioning properly. If left untreated, it can progress into congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart isn't pumping enough blood, and blood backs up (or congests) either in the lungs or the lower extremities.

  1. Heart valves

    • The heart has four chambers: right and left atria and right and left ventricles. Between the right atrium and right ventricle is the tricuspid valve, and between the left atrium and left ventricle is the mitral (or bicuspid) valve. The left ventricle pumps blood to the body through the aorta and the aortic valve, and the right ventricle pumps blood to the lungs through the pulmonary valve.

    Types of valve disease

    • There are three types of valve diseases. The first is regurgitation, also called backflow, in which the valve doesn't close properly and some of the blood flows back into the previous chamber. The second is stenosis, in which the valves harden or narrow and less blood passes through. The third is atresia, in which the valve has no opening at all.

    Heart failure

    • Heart failure can be chronic, which happens slowly over time, or acute, which comes sharply and suddenly, usually due to an outside cause like a viral infection. The heart has not totally failed; rather, it's not pumping enough blood out with each contraction, and the blood vessels behind the chamber, either on the pulmonary or systemic side, become backed up with fluid.

    Types of heart failure

    • Left-side heart failure is characterized by shortness of breath, especially when lying down, and coughing up pink mucus. Symptoms of right-side heart failure are swelling (edema) and fluid buildup in the lower extremities, especially the abdomen, legs and feet.

    Treatment

    • Valvular disease can be treated by medication or, in severe or congenital cases, valve repair or replacement through surgery. Heart failure is treated by a range of medications such as ACE-inhibitors, beta blockers, diuretics (to help relieve fluid buildup) and by fixing the problem that caused it in the first place, such as valve disease. In severe cases, heart transplant may be necessary.

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