Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center

What Causes Heart Valve Disease

Dr. Stephen Little speaking with a patient

The causes of valve disease may either be congenital (existing since birth) or acquired (developing over time).

Congenital Valve Disease

Congenital defects include valves that are malformed or the wrong size, usually affecting the pulmonary, mitral and aortic valves. In these cases, the valve's flaps (called leaflets) may not be able to close correctly, causing blood to backflow and reducing the heart's pumping efficiency.

Acquired Valve Disease

The most common cause of valve disease in adults is simply degeneration of the valve's leaflets with age. Rarely, acquired valve disease can also result from rheumatic fever (a rare complication associated with strep throat) or a bacterial infection of the valve (endocarditis).

Over time, valve leaflets can become thickened, floppy or calcified and do not open normally (stenosis, which is most common in the aortic valve).

Leaflets that become thickened and floppy do not close normally and allow blood to flow backward (regurgitation, most common in the mitral valve).

One relatively common condition is mitral valve prolapse, in which the leaflets in the mitral valve (between the left atrium and the left ventricle) 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 do not need treatment.

Still other acquired causes of valve disease include:

  • Enlarged heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Coronary disease from blockages
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Aortic aneurysms
  • Heart tumors (rarely)

Learn more about valve disease:

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