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Understanding Heart Valve Regurgitation

Understanding Heart Valve Regurgitation

How exactly does heart valve regurgitation happen?

To full understand this, we must first define heart valve disease and how it can impact cardiovascular function.

Heart valve disease or valvular heart disease occurs when there is damage to one or more of the four heart valves. These valves regulate and control the forward distribution of blood through the heart, to the lungs and the rest of the body.

They are also responsible for collecting oxygen-poor blood from the body for proper oxygenation through the lungs. It is important that the oxygen-rich blood does not mix with oxygen-poor blood.

Heart valve diseases are usually primarily concerned with the mitral and aortic valves. A fully functional valve pushes blood forward in the right direction. In cases of heart valve disease, the valves either fail to open smoothly or close tightly.

If the valve fails to open, the blood is forced to back up in the heart chamber. If the valve fails to close, blood may leak back into the chamber where it previously came from.

The build-up of blood in the chambers of the heart causes blood clots, which can lead to serious complications such as stroke, pulmonary embolism, or in extreme cases, congestive heart failure.

What is heart valve regurgitation?

Regurgitation is defined as blood leaking backwards through a damaged valve. The leaking is because the valve is unable to close properly, allowing blood to escape back into the chamber it exited. Because blood is meant to move forward, the leak causes a disruption.

This means that less blood is pumped out of the heart to the lungs or to the body. What’s more, this puts a strain on the heart, which loses its ability to efficiently pump oxygen-rich blood to the body.

The types of heart valve regurgitation depend on which valve is affected. Here are the types of heart valve regurgitation.

Mitral Valve Regurgitation

A mitral valve regurgitation affects the mitral valve, causing leakage into the left atrium from the left ventricle. This disrupts the distribution of blood to the rest of the body, meaning less blood is pumped out to the body.

Because the leakage causes blood build-up and increased pressure, the atrium might become enlarged. Regurgitation also blocks the flow of blood from the lungs, causing congestion or fluid build-up in the lungs.

Tricuspid Valve Regurgitation

A tricuspid valve regurgitation occurs when the tricuspid valve malfunctions. Instead of a forward push towards the right ventricle, the leakage brings the blood backwards into the right atrium. This may cause enlargement of the atrium.

Pulmonary Valve Regurgitation

A pulmonary valve regurgitation disrupts the blood movement from the right ventricle, or lower right chamber of the heart, into the lungs. The backward movement allows the intermingling of oxygenated blood with oxygen-poor blood. Thus, the oxygen-rich blood is not properly distributed to fuel the human body.

Aortic Valve Regurgitation

An aortic valve regurgitation prevents the further distribution of oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. Because of the defective aortic valve, blood leaks from the aorta back to the left ventricle instead of forward. Since the body is not receiving enough blood, the heart pumps double time to address the lack of supply. As time passes, the thickening of the ventricles increase the likelihood of heart failure.

What causes heart valve regurgitation?

Heart valve diseases may be due to congenital or acquired causes. The kinds of congenital diseases are:

  • Congenital valvular heart disease. The size or shape of the valve may be wrong, or its flaps are not properly attached.
  • Bicuspid aortic valve disease. This birth defect affects the aortic valve, which normally have three flaps or leaflets. A bicuspid aortic valve has only two, and the absence of one means the valve is unable to close properly and regurgitation occurs.
  • Marfan syndrome. This is a connective tissue disease that may affect the tissues connecting the heart, resulting in mitral valve prolapse and aortic valve regurgitation.

Meanwhile, acquired causes may include the following:

  • Rheumatic fever. This inflammatory disease can damage the heart valves as the body fights the streptococcal bacteria infection if left untreated.
  • Infective endocarditis. Bacteria or other germs can infect the heart valves once they pass through the bloodstream.
  • Radiation therapy. This increases the risk of valvular heart disease for patients who undergo radiation therapy to the chest.

Another cause for heart valve regurgitation is age, due to the degenerative changes in the body as a result of normal aging. Other pre-existing conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, and cardiomyopathy can also lead to valvular heart disease because of the damage to the heart muscle. High blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart tumor can also contribute to heart valve problems. Some medication, such as methysergide used to treat migraines, and some drugs for dieting can increase the risk of this heart disease.

Signs and symptoms to watch out for

Symptoms may develop gradually as the heart attempts to compensate for the damaged valve. A person may go years without being aware of having heart valve regurgitation. However, once their condition worsens, the symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen feet
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Irregular pulse
  • Heart murmur
  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations

It is important to consult a doctor immediately and undergo physical examination in order to prevent more serious complications such as stroke, heart failure, heart rhythm abnormalities, infection, or even pulmonary hypertension. Other forms of medical examination include electrocardiogram, stress testing, chest x-rays, echocardiogram, and cardiac catheterization.

Key Takeaways

A heart valve regurgitation is a type of heart valve disease that causes blood leakage within the chambers of the heart due to defective heart valves. There are treatments for heart valve regurgitation such as antibiotics, medications, anticoagulants, and valve surgery. Nevertheless, it is best to lead a healthy heart lifestyle.

Learn more about heart valve disease, here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Maielle Montayre Updated Aug 02, 2020
Medically reviewed by Mike-Kenneth Go Doratan, M.D.