Aging & Health A to Z
Heart Valve Problems
Common Cardiac Tests
Causes & Symptoms
Some heart valve problems are present at birth. In older adults, heart valve problems may be due to degenerative changes, or “wear and tear” over time, as well as a consequence of other medical conditions.
Heart valve problems can be caused by:
- The normal wear and tear of aging
- Damage to your heart tissue from a heart attack, coronary artery disease, or heart failure
- Rheumatic heart disease, caused by rheumatic fever
- Buildup of calcium or fat deposits on your heart valves
- Thinning or tearing of the supporting tissues around the valve
- Holes that develop in a valve due to high blood pressure or kidney disease
- Certain types of diseases that affect the connective tissues -(the building blocks of skin, tendons, ligaments, joints and bones).
Signs and Symptoms
The main sign of heart valve disease is a heart murmur that your doctor may hear with a stethoscope. A heart murmur is an extra sound that can be caused by blood flowing through a narrowed or leaky valve. A heart murmur often sounds like a “whoosh” or “swish”. However, not all heart murmurs are due to heart valve problems.
If your symptoms are mild, such as mild fatigue or lightheadedness, your healthcare provider may choose to wait before treating valve problems.
More serious symptoms of heart valve problems include:
- Severe fatigue
- Shortness of breath at rest
- Chest pain, pressure, tightness, or squeezing
- Racing, fluttering, or irregular heartbeat
- Swelling in the ankles, legs, or belly
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
If you develop any of these symptoms, notify your healthcare provider right away. If these symptoms start suddenly, they could be a sign of acute heart failure, which is a medical emergency. If you can’t reach your provider, call 911.
Updated: March 2017
Posted: March 2012