Heart Valve: What It Is and How It Works

    Heart Valve: What It Is and How It Works

    A heart valve is a one-way valve that allows blood to flow in one direction through the chambers of the heart. Four valves are usually present in a mammalian heart and together they determine the pathway of blood flow through the heart. A heart valve opens or closes according to differential blood pressure on each side.

    The four valves of the heart are:

    • Aortic valve: This valve has three leaflets. They open to let blood flow from your heart’s left ventricle to the aorta. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in your body.
    • Mitral valve: This valve has two leaflets. They allow blood to flow from the lungs into the left atrium. And they prevent backward flow from the left ventricle to the left atrium.
    • Pulmonary valve: This valve also has three leaflets. They allow blood to pump from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery. This artery leads to the lungs, where blood picks up oxygen. The pulmonary valve prevents blood from going backward from the pulmonary artery to the right ventricle.
    • Tricuspid valve: This valve has three leaflets. They allow blood to flow from the right atrium to the right ventricle. They also prevent blood from flowing backward from the right ventricle to the right atrium.

    The heart valves and the chambers are lined with endocardium. Heart valves separate the atria from the ventricles, or the ventricles from a blood vessel. Heart valves are situated around the fibrous rings of the cardiac skeleton. The valves incorporate flaps called leaflets or cusps, similar to a duckbill valve or flutter valve, which are pushed open to allow blood flow and which then close together to seal and prevent backflow.

    As your heart pumps blood, four valves open and close to make sure blood flows in the correct direction. As they open and close, they make two sounds that create the sound of a heartbeat.

    Heart valve disease occurs when one or more of the valves fail to open or close properly, disrupting the blood flow through your heart to your body. This can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, swelling, fainting or palpitations. Some causes of heart valve disease include congenital defects, infections, aging, rheumatic fever or coronary artery disease.

    Heart valve disease can be diagnosed by physical examination, medical history, imaging tests or cardiac catheterization. Treatment options depend on the type and severity of the disease, and may include medication, surgery or minimally invasive procedures.

    Heart Valve Surgery: Types and Outcomes

    Heart valve surgery is a procedure to treat heart valve disease. Heart valve disease involves at least one of the four heart valves not working properly. Heart valves keep blood flowing in the correct direction through the heart. The four heart valves are the mitral valve, tricuspid valve, pulmonary valve and aortic valve.

    There are two basic types of heart valve problems:

    • A narrowing of a valve (stenosis) that reduces blood flow.
    • A leak in a valve (regurgitation) that allows blood to flow backward.

    Heart valve surgery can be done to repair or replace a damaged or diseased heart valve. The type of surgery needed depends on various factors, including the type and severity of the valve disease, the age and health of the patient, and the preference of the patient and the doctor.

    There are different types of heart valve surgery, such as:

    • Open-heart surgery: This is the most common type of heart valve surgery. It involves making a large incision in the chest and stopping the heart temporarily. A machine keeps blood moving through the body during the surgery. The surgeon then repairs or replaces the affected valve using stitches, patches, rings or artificial valves.
    • Minimally invasive heart surgery: This type of surgery involves making smaller incisions in the chest and using special instruments to perform the surgery. The heart may or may not be stopped during the procedure. Minimally invasive heart surgery may have some advantages over open-heart surgery, such as less bleeding, faster recovery and lower risk of infection.
    • Robot-assisted heart surgery: This is a type of minimally invasive heart surgery that uses a robotic system to perform the surgery. The surgeon sits at a remote console and controls the robotic arms that move the instruments inside the chest. Robot-assisted heart surgery may offer more precision and flexibility than conventional surgery.
    • Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR): This is a type of minimally invasive procedure that uses catheters to replace a diseased aortic valve. The catheter is inserted through a blood vessel in the groin or chest and guided to the heart. A balloon at the tip of the catheter expands to push aside the old valve and place a new one. TAVR may be an option for people who have severe aortic stenosis and are not good candidates for open-heart surgery.

    The outcomes of heart valve surgery depend on various factors, such as the type and severity of the valve disease, the type and quality of the surgery, and the overall health of the patient. In general, heart valve surgery can improve blood flow, reduce symptoms, prevent complications and prolong life.

    However, heart valve surgery also has some risks and limitations, such as:

    • Bleeding, infection, stroke or death during or after the surgery.
    • Damage to nearby structures, such as nerves, blood vessels or other valves.
    • Need for blood transfusion or dialysis.
    • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that may require medication or a pacemaker.
    • Prosthetic valve failure or dysfunction that may require another surgery.
    • Blood clots or infection on the prosthetic valve that may require anticoagulant medication or antibiotics.

    Therefore, it is important to discuss with your doctor about the benefits and risks of heart valve surgery and follow-up care after the surgery.

    Hi, I’m Adam Smith

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