Valvular heart disease or heart valve disease is a rare but serious condition that can be seen in all age groups but is more common in older adults. It is estimated that 13 percent of all people born before 1943 have valvular heart disease. In this article, we discuss the most common heart valve disease symptoms and risk factors.
The functions and normal anatomy of heart valves
The normal human heart has four valves that separate the chambers of the heart, as well as the ventricles from the aorta and pulmonary artery. These valves ensure that as the heart contracts, blood moves forward instead of flowing back to the previous chamber or blood vessel.
Heart valves are made out of strong, thin flaps of tissue called leaflets or cusps, which (when healthy) allow blood to only flow in one direction. There are structures within the heart that offer support to the tricuspid and mitral valves, such as the chordae tendineae and papillary muscles. The chordae tendineae is a strong fibrous string that attaches to the valves, allowing them to endure high levels of pressure when preventing the backflow of blood.
The other end of these chordae tendineae are attached to what we call papillary muscles, which are found on the inside of the ventricles and contract when resisting the backflow of blood to the atria.