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Heart Valve Disease

At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center, we understand the concern after a heart valve disease diagnosis. Our expert cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, heart surgeons and specialty nurses have dedicated their careers to finding treatments that may help you feel like yourself again.

With longstanding expertise in heart valve disease, our nationally known doctors provide advanced care that patients can’t find anywhere else in the St. Louis region. U.S. News & World Report has recognized our cardiology and heart surgery team as one of the best in the nation.

What Is Heart Valve Disease?

Your heart has four valves that control blood flow through the heart. Sometimes, heart valves stiffen, leak or don’t work correctly.

These changes can restrict blood flow to the body or cause blood to flow in the wrong direction. Over time, heart valve disease can cause heart failure or lead to abnormal heart rhythms.

People may experience a problem with any of the four valves. We successfully treat these valve problems:

  • Aortic: The aortic valve is the last stop newly oxygen-rich blood makes before leaving the heart. This valve controls blood flow to your arteries. Instead of open-heart surgery, our surgeons often perform transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) surgery to replace the valve.
  • Mitral: Heart valve disease commonly affects the mitral valve, which helps manage the amount of blood moving from your lungs to the rest of your body. If your mitral valve doesn’t close tightly enough, and blood is flowing backward, our experienced surgeons can perform mitral valve repair.
  • Pulmonary: The pulmonary valve opens to let blood flow to your lungs, where it will pick up oxygen. Our team provides pulmonary valve repair and replacement using the open or minimally invasive procedure that is best for the patient. For some cases, doctors perform a less-invasive procedure called balloon valvuloplasty that opens the valve.
  • Tricuspid: Blood returning from your body to your heart goes through the tricuspid valve. This heart valve helps control the amount of blood flowing toward your lungs. Most often, surgeons are able to repair the tricuspid valve during open-heart surgery. We also perform tricuspid valve replacement procedures.

Types of heart valve disease

Heart valve disease can affect your heart’s valves in one of two ways:

  • Valvular stenosis: A condition called valvular stenosis results in the heart valve becoming stiff or narrowed. As a result, the constricted opening doesn’t allow enough blood to flow to the body.
  • Valvular regurgitation: Several conditions can cause your heart valves not to close completely. When valves stay partially open, blood can flow backward. In this case, your heart must work extra hard to push blood out to the rest of the body.

What Causes Heart Valve Disease?

Some people are born with abnormal heart valves. This condition is known as congenital heart disease.

Others develop heart valve disease as a result of:

Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease

Heart valve disease symptoms can vary depending on which valve is involved. People with heart valve problems may experience:

  • Unusual tiredness or fatigue
  • Shortness of breath, especially during activity or when lying down
  • Chest pain, commonly during exertion
  • Dizziness, feeling lightheaded or fainting
  • Swelling of the feet, ankles, hands or abdomen
  • Sensations of a racing heart or having irregular heartbeats

Diagnosis & Treatment for Heart Valve Disease

Our specialists will examine you carefully to determine whether you have heart valve disease. We’ll also study your heart to learn what type of heart valve disease you might have. Tests such as an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart) can tell us if your valve function has declined to the point of needing surgery to repair or replace it.

If your valves are only slightly impaired, you may feel better with specific lifestyle changes and close monitoring by your cardiologist. For symptoms that are more advanced, your specialist may recommend medications or surgery.

Based on your individual condition, we’ll discuss the best next steps with you and your family. Learn more about options for heart valve repair and replacement.

Heart Valve Team

You and your well-being are important to us. Our team treats hundreds of patients with heart valve disease every year, and we personalize each person’s treatment plan to their specific needs. Our experience means that you and your family can count on our expert team of heart surgeons and interventional cardiologists to provide care that is unmatched in the region.

We offer advanced treatment options through clinical trials, including new, less invasive mitral valve surgeries. In addition, our success rates are significantly higher than the national average – meaning that more of our patients have an active, longer life after treatment. Learn more about our heart valve team.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University heart valve specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 855.925.0631.