Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a heart valve?

Your heart consists of four chambers, and at the exit of each chamber is a set of flaps called a valve. These valves keep your blood flowing in the right direction, and when a valve either doesn’t let enough blood through or doesn’t seal properly, serious complications can arise. The four valves in your heart are:

  • The tricuspid valve (between the right atrium and the right ventricle)
  • The pulmonary valve (between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery that leads to the lungs)
  • The mitral valve (between the left atrium and the left ventricle)
  • The aortic valve (between the left ventricle and the aorta)

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What causes valve disease?

The causes of valve disease may either be congenital (existing since birth) or acquired (developing over time). Congenital defects include valves that are malformed or the wrong size, usually affecting the pulmonary, mitral and aortic valves. The most common cause of valve disease in adults is simply degeneration of the valve’s leaflets with age.

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What tests are used to diagnose valve disease?

If your doctor suspects valve disease, he or she may order one or more of the following tests:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE)
  • A transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)
  • Doppler echocardiogram
  • 3D echocardiography
  • 3D TEE
  • Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (C-MRI)

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What is the aortic valve?

The aorta is the largest artery of the body, the vessel through which oxygenated blood flows from the heart into the vascular system. The aortic valve is located between the left ventricle and the aorta; like all heart valves, it’s there to ensure that blood flows in the right direction.

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What is aortic stenosis?

Aortic valve stenosis, or simply aortic stenosis, is a serious heart condition involving a narrowing of the aortic valve, the “gateway” through which oxygenated blood passes from the heart to the rest of the body. As a result of this narrowing, the heart must work harder to pump blood out and gradually grows weaker over time, which could lead to heart failure and possibly death.

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What are the treatments for aortic stenosis?

While medications may be used to manage some of the symptoms of aortic stenosis, the only way to treat the condition is by repairing or replacing the valve to open the passageway. Some of the treatment options include:

  • Open-Heart Surgical Valve Replacement
  • Balloon Valvuloplasty
  • Trans-Catheter Aortic Valve Implantation/Replacement (TAVI/TAVR)

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What is transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVI)?

Trans-catheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI, also called trans-catheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR) is a treatment for aortic stenosis that allows the aortic valve to be replaced through a small incision in the groin. TAVI has proven to be an effective alternative for patients who would be considered at very high risk for conventional surgical valve replacement. The surgeons at the Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular center perform more TAVI procedures than any other center in the Houston area, and more than many major heart centers in the United States.

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What is aortic regurgitation?

The aortic valve has three flaps (called cusps or leaflets) that open quickly to allow blood to leave the heart. If the cusps do not close properly, blood is allowed to flow backward into the heart. This backflow is call aortic regurgitation, also called aortic insufficiency. If the amount of aortic regurgitation is significant, over time this “extra” blood can cause the left ventricle to work harder and to enlarge. Patients with severe aortic valve regurgitation may notice unusual fatigue, lethargy and shortness of breath.

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What are the treatments for aortic regurgitation?

If your aortic regurgitation is causing no symptoms or if your symptoms are mild, your doctor may simply want to monitor your condition with regular echocardiograms. If your condition is more serious, it may be treated with certain medications or with surgery to repair or replace the valve.

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What is the mitral valve?

The mitral valve is the valve in the heart that controls blood flow between the left atrium and the left ventricle.

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What is mitral valve stenosis?

Over time, the mitral valve can become abnormally thick or “fused” and does not open easily. This difficulty in valve opening, called mitral valve stenosis, causes high pressure in the left atrium, which affects the lungs and may make a person feel short of breath.

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What are the treatments for mitral valve stenosis?

There is no medication that can treat mitral valve stenosis. For serious cases, patients are usually offered either a catheter-based procedure using a balloon to enlarge the valve opening or surgery to replace the valve.

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What is mitral valve regurgitaiton?

If the mitral valve does not close properly, blood may flow backward (regurgitate) into the left atrium and towards the lungs. Serious cases of mitral valve regurgitation may cause shortness of breath, fatigue, and irregular heartbeat (palpitation).

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Do I need surgery for mitral valve regurgitation?

There is no medication that can treat mitral valve regurgitation. For severe cases, the best therapy is mitral valve repair surgery, which usually involves repositioning the leaflets to correct the leak. Because the function of the left ventricle can be affected by removing the mitral valve, repair surgery is generally a better option than valve replacement.

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What is mitral valve prolapse?

Mitral valve prolapse is a relatively common condition in which the leaflets in the mitral valve do not close properly and may bulge backward into the left atrium, resulting in leakage. Most patients with this condition are only mildly affected, show no symptoms and don’t need treatment.

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What clinical trials for treating valve disease are going on at Houston Methodist?

Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center has been selected to participate in several clinical trials to study new treatments for aortic stenosis and other valve conditions. To find out about our current trials, please contact us at 713-441-2863 or valveclinic@houstonmethodist.org.

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For more information or to refer a patient to the Valve Clinic, please call 713-441-2863 or complete the Contact Us online form.