Skip to main content

What Is Valvular Heart Disease?

Valvular heart disease, also called heart valve disease, occurs when you have a diseased or damaged heart valve. When your heart pumps blood, your valves open and close to keep blood flowing in the correct direction between your heart’s chambers. You have heart valve disease when one or more of your valves don’t open or close properly.

Types of Valvular Heart Disease

There are three main types of valvular heart diseases:

  • Regurgitation—Your valve doesn’t close properly, and blood leaks backward. Regurgitation may occur because of a valve prolapse. Prolapse is when one of your valve’s leaflets, the flaps that make your valve open and close, flops or bulges backward.
  • StenosisYour valve thickens or narrows, obstructing blood flow.
  • Atresia—You have a missing heart valve. Atresia is a congenital condition, meaning you’re born with it.

Valve disease is most common in your aortic valve, but it can affect any of your heart valves:

  • Aortic valve, which controls blood flow to the aorta (your body’s main artery)
  • Mitral valve, which controls blood flow between the upper and lower heart chambers on the left side
  • Pulmonary valve, which controls blood flow to your pulmonary artery (the artery leading to your lungs)
  • Tricuspid valve, which controls blood flow between the upper and lower chambers on the right side

Heart Valve Disease Symptoms

Some types of heart valve disease, such as mitral valve prolapse and tricuspid regurgitation, may not cause noticeable symptoms, especially in early stages. Sometimes, you may have a heart murmur, a slight whooshing sound your doctor hears when they listen to your heartbeat.

Other valve diseases, such as aortic valve stenosis, are more likely to cause noticeable symptoms. You may have different symptoms depending on the type of disease:

You should see a heart specialist when you notice signs of heart valve disease. A cardiologist can determine whether you have an underlying heart condition.

Heart Valve Disease Complications

Without treatment, some types of severe heart valve disease can lead to complications:

Valvular Heart Disease Causes

Some people are born with heart valve problems. Others develop them later in life. You’re more likely to develop heart valve disease if you're older or have a medical condition that puts you at high-risk for the disease:

Is Heart Valve Disease Hereditary?

A family history of heart problems increases your risk of developing heart valve disease:

  • Your brother or father was diagnosed with heart disease before age 55.
  • Your sister or mother was diagnosed with heart disease before age 65.

Why Choose the Structural Heart Program?

Our Structural Heart Program team at University of Utah Health continually earns exceptional rankings for their expert heart care. Multiple specialists, including interventional cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, nurse practitioners, nurses, and a program manager who coordinates tests and appointments, care for patients through our comprehensive valve clinic.

We work together to offer you the most advanced, effective treatments. Our doctors are active researchers who study promising new therapies and often have early access to the latest technologies.

Heart Valve Disease Diagnostic Tests

Your cardiologist will physically examine you and listen to your chest to check for a heart murmur. They also will use an array of tests to assess and diagnose your condition:

  • A transthoracic or transesophageal echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce a video image of your heart’s valves and blood flow.
  • Cardiac catheterization uses thin, flexible tubes to evaluate heart pressure and coronary arteries.
  • Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG) measures your heart’s electrical signals.
  • Chest X-rays use low doses of radiation to look at whether your heart is enlarged, which could point to some types of valve disease.
  • Chest CT scans use a series of X-rays and special computers to get an image of your heart.
  • A cardiac MRI uses magnets and radio waves to get a detailed image of your heart.

Find a Heart Team Specialist

Heart Valve Disease Treatment

Your heart valve disease treatment will depend on your valve disease type and its severity. Some mild cases of heart valve disease may not require any specific treatment.

Heart Valve Disease Treatment Without Surgery

Often, healthy lifestyle changes will be the first step in treating valvular heart disease. Your provider will give you personalized recommendations, such as losing weight or eating a heart-healthy diet.

In some cases, your doctor will prescribe heart valve disease medications to manage and reduce your symptoms:

  • Control high blood pressure
  • Manage your heart rate
  • Prevent blood clots
  • Reduce fluid build-up in your legs and ankles

Heart Valve Disease Surgery & Procedures

If you have advanced valve disease, your surgeon may recommend heart valve procedure:

Can Heart Valve Disease Be Reversed?

Heart valve diseases can be cured with a valve repair or replacement procedure.

Next Steps & Referral Information

To make an appointment, you can call 801-213-5922 or fill out our online form.
Our program does not require a referral; however, your insurance company may. Please fax your referral information to

Hear From Our Patients

Joe Yanez was a high school junior in 1966 when he suffered an appendicitis attack. His attack was so serious he needed a blood transfusion, and thirty years later that transfusion caused him to develop hepatitis C.

The disease damaged his liver so extensively that his only hope was a liver transplant. To complicate matters even more, Yanez developed heart valve disease and needed a new valve in addition to a liver. His doctors in Colorado were unable to perform such a high-risk surgery, so Yanez found his way to University of Utah Health.

Patient Resources

My Doctor Said I Have a Heart Murmur. What Does That Mean?

If your doctor told you that you have a heart murmur, you're probably wondering what that means. Is my health in danger? Will I always have a heart murmur? Do I need surgery?

Learn About Heart Murmurs