Health Care

The Roles of Your Four Heart Valves

Doctor listening to an older woman patient's heart.

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The human heart has four valves, and each plays an important part in keeping your heart healthy and maintaining good blood circulation. These valves open and close between chambers of your heart, making sure your blood is pumping in the right direction. The opening and closing of these values create the sound of your heartbeat.

Learn how your heart and its four valves work, and signs when something might be wrong.

How Do Heart Valves Work?

Your heart valves do important work. They allow blood to move between the four chambers of your heart — and ultimately pump oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. As they open and close, they serve as entry and exit points for the four chambers of your heart, including two at the top (left and right atria) and two at the bottom (left and right ventricles).

Valves are strong, thin flaps of tissue. Think of them as doors with hinges. To function correctly, each valve must be formed properly, remain flexible, open fully and close all the way.

When your body’s tissues use the oxygen in your blood, that blood returns to the heart and lungs for oxygen to be replenished. Each valve ensures blood moves at the right time and in the right direction.

Function of the Four Heart Valves

Each of the four valves has a certain location and job to do:

  1. The tricuspid valve allows blood to pump from the right atrium to the right ventricle.
  2. The pulmonary valve allows blood to flow from the right ventricle through the pulmonary artery, where it picks up oxygen in the lungs.
  3. The mitral valve separates the heart’s left atrium and left ventricle, opening to allow blood flow from the left atrium to the left ventricle. It also prevents blood from leaking back into the left ventricle.
  4. The aortic valve allows blood to flow from the left ventricle to the aorta, which is your body’s largest blood vessel. This oxygenized blood is carried throughout your body. The aortic valve also prevents blood from flowing backward into your left ventricle.

Problems with Heart Valves

Your heart may have to work extra hard to pump blood if one of your heart valves doesn’t work properly. Heart valve problems could be genetic or congenital; for example, a valve could be missing at birth. Problems can also result from the normal process of aging, infection or other underlying health conditions.

Most diseased heart valves are on the left side, but problems can develop with any valve. The main types of heart problems include:

  • Prolapse is caused when cusps don’t fit and close properly between each heartbeat
  • Regurgitation happens when a valve doesn’t close properly, allowing blood to flow backward
  • Stenosis causes valve tissue to become thick, stiff or fused together restricting blood flow

A person can have one or any combination of any of these heart valve issues.

Symptoms and When to Get Care

A heart murmur often is the first sign of a heart valve problem. While some people with heart valve conditions never have symptoms, most valve problems get worse over time. That means you’re more likely to get symptoms later in life.

Signs of a heart valve problem may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Racing or fluttering heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in your belly, legs, ankles or feet

Be sure to see a doctor for these symptoms, or if you have signs of an infection such as body aches and fever. Developing an infection in your heart can be serious, so don’t wait to seek treatment.

Preventing Heart Valve Problems from Getting Worse

If you or someone in your family has an issue with a heart valve, take these steps to improve your heart health or keep a child’s heart healthy.

We’re Here to Help Keep Your Heart Healthy

Heart valve conditions can lead to other, more serious health conditions like life-threatening arrhythmias or heart failure. So, it’s crucial to talk with your doctor right away if you experience symptoms.

Minimally invasive treatments — including surgical heart valve replacement — are available for several heart valve conditions, and advancements are being made every day in cardiac care. If you need to see a heart doctor, the experts at AdventHealth are here for you. Let us help you stay on the path toward good heart health. Learn more.

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