Valvular heart disease occurs when the heart's valves no longer help regulate blood flow.
The human heart contains four one-way valves that assure efficient unidirectional blood flow through the lungs and the systemic circulation. The two valves that most commonly become diseased and are responsible for the vast majority of clinical heart valve disease are the inlet (mitral) and outlet (aortic) valves of the main pumping chamber of the heart, the left ventricle.
The valve may have a defect such as artificial narrowing (stenosis) which restricts blood flow, or may be weakened and cause regurgitation (where the blood is re-directed in the wrong direction). This disease may be caused by damage to the heart muscle as a result of rheumatic fever or a congenital abnormality. Over time, valve disease can cause the heart muscle to become overworked, and if left untreated can cause even further damages.
Anatomy of the Valves
The mitral valve is the inflow valve to the left ventricle and is positioned between the left atrium, which receives blood from the lungs and the left ventricle. The mitral valve opens during relaxation of the left ventricle (diastole) and allows blood from the atrium to fill the ventricle. Contraction of the ventricle (systole) causes a rapid increase of pressure in the ventricle, which in turn results in closure of the mitral valve.
The aortic valve is the outflow valve of the left ventricle; it sits at the junction of the left ventricle and the aorta, the large blood vessel responsible for carrying blood to the entire body. During systole, the aortic valve opens and permits rapid egress of blood from the ventricle to the aorta. During ventricular relaxation, the aortic valve closes and prevents backflow of blood from the aorta to the ventricle.
Diagnosing Valvular Heart Disease
The Maryland Heart Center specializes in the medical and surgical treatment of valvular disease, with an expert team of physicians having extensive experience in both aortic and mitral valve repair. Traditionally, surgeons have dealt with this disease by replacing the valve. At the Maryland Heart Center, our cardiac surgeons are repairing rather than replacing the valve at a rate much higher than the national average. In the case of the mitral valve, our repair rates are around 85 percent, about double the national average. This progressive treatment results in many advantages for patients, including increased long-term survival rates and reduced risk of stroke.
At the Maryland Heart Center, the very latest diagnostic, medical and surgical procedures are immediately accessible to patients with valvular heart disease. These diagnostic procedures are precise and sophisticated, providing the information necessary for treatment programs that are uniquely tailored to an individual condition. This technology enables physicians to determine any risk factors for new or recurrent heart and blood vessel disease.
Read about our transradial cardiac catheterization
Surgical Treatment Options
The Maryland Heart Center offers traditional and minimally invasive approaches to mitral valve repair and aortic valve repair. Our experienced cardiac surgeons are pioneering approaches to reduce side effects, speed recovery and improve patient outcomes.