Everything You Need to Know About a Leaky Heart Valve

A leaky heart valve may sound scary. But with close monitoring and treatment, you can live a normal life. 

Your heart has four chambers that help circulate blood throughout your body. Keeping the blood flowing in the right direction are valves (also called leaflets or cusps), which shut tightly and prevent blood from backflowing. However, these valves don’t close entirely for some people, causing blood to leak backward and straining the heart muscles. 

According to the Alliance for Aging Research, around 11.6 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with heart valve disease, also known as a leaky heart valve or regurgitation. A leaky heart is highly treatable with close monitoring and, if necessary, surgical intervention. 

What causes a leaky heart?

Remember the four chambers we mentioned earlier? The upper two chambers are the atria, while the lower two are the ventricles. Between each chamber are four critical valves that keep blood pumping: 

  • The aortic valve sends blood to the left ventricle (bottom chamber).
  • The mitral valve connects the left atrium (top chamber) to the left ventricle.
  • The tricuspid valve pushes blood from the right atrium to the right ventricle. 
  • The pulmonic valve is between the lower right chamber (right ventricle) and the pulmonary artery.

Several factors contribute to the development of a leaky heart. Perhaps the most common is a congenital heart defect. Other causes include calcium deposits leading to a narrowing of the valve, an infection of the heart lining, or rheumatic fever. An enlarged heart, or an injury to the heart, can also result in valve damage.

A leaky heart may not always exhibit any symptoms, but it can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, or heart palpitations. Additional symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, and swelling of the ankles, feet, or abdomen. Aortic valve regurgitation could lead to heart failure, and a leaking mitral valve could also cause heart failure and atrial fibrillation.

Diagnosing and treating a leaky heart

Your doctor will listen for a heart murmur and review your symptoms. Your doctor will order imaging tests to determine whether a valve is damaged. These tests will likely include: 

  • An echocardiogram
  • A cardiac catheterization 
  • An electrocardiogram (EKG)

If your symptoms are mild, treatment may not be necessary beyond regular monitoring. However, if symptoms are so severe they interfere with your everyday activities, you may be a candidate for valve repair or replacement. 

Your doctor may place a ring or clip to reinforce the leaky valve to repair the valve. During a replacement valve procedure, your doctor will replace the valve with a device made of carbon and metal. In some cases, your doctor may use a donated valve.

Unfortunately, one can’t definitively prevent a leaky heart valve. But you can take care of your heart and reduce your risk of heart disease by following these tips:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Manage your weight.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet low in fat and sodium.
  • Quit smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Reduce your stress and get enough rest.

While you’re being monitored for a leaky heart, remember to take your prescribed medications. With close monitoring, you can continue your daily routine even while living with a leaky heart valve.

Let us check your heart!

The cardiologists at Tri-City Cardiologist are experts in treating various heart conditions, including leaky valves. We will use the latest diagnostic and treatment techniques to help you live a healthy life. Contact us today for a consultation.

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