Aging & Health A to Z
Heart Valve Problems
Common Cardiac Tests
Basic Facts & Information
The heart has two distinct sides (right and left) and four distinct chambers. The upper chambers – called the right atrium and the left atrium – collect blood flowing in from the body and in from the lungs. The lower chambers – called the right and left ventricles – collect blood from the atria then pump it forcefully out. The right ventricle pumps blood to the lungs, and the left ventricle pumps blood through the aorta to the rest of the body.
The heart has four valves. The job of each heart valve is to open, so that blood can flow out of the chamber, and to close, so that blood does not flow back the wrong way.
Heart valves can be damaged by diseases, and by normal “wear and tear” over a lifetime of use. Among adults age 75 and older, one in eight has moderate or severe heart valve disease. Valve problems include:
- Stenosis – when a valve doesn’t open enough and blocks blood flow
- Regurgitation – when a valve becomes leaky, allowing blood to flow in the wrong direction
The most common heart valve problems in older adults are:
- Aortic stenosis – blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta and rest of the body is reduced
- Mitral regurgitation – blood leaks from the left ventricle back into the left atrium
- Tricuspid regurgitation – blood leaks from the right ventricle back into the right atrium,
Not all heart valve problems need treatment. Some may need medicines, while for others, surgery or other procedures to repair or replace the valve is needed. Fortunately, there have been major advances in the repair and replacement of heart valves, even in older patients who may have been considered too sick for these procedures in the past.
Updated: March 2017
Posted: March 2012