When heart valves are damaged, blood cannot flow through the heart normally. The following two problems can occur in heart valves:
- Valve stenosis: The valve opening becomes narrow and cannot completely open due to a build-up of calcium (mineral deposits), high cholesterol (a waxy fat), age or genetics (such as a birth defect).
- Aortic regurgitation or insufficiency: the valve does not fully close and allows blood to leak backwards through the valve. With either problem, your heart needs to work harder and may not pump enough oxygen-rich blood to your body.
- Mitral regurgitation: Also known as mitral insufficiency or mitral incompetence, mitral regurgitation (MR) is a condition in which your heart’s mitral valve doesn’t close tightly thereby allowing blood to flow backward in your heart. As a result, blood can’t move through your heart or to the rest of your body as efficiently, making you feel tired or out of breath.
Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of your aortic valve opening that does not allow normal blood flow. It can be caused by a birth defect, rheumatic fever, radiation therapy or can be related to age.
It is sometimes caused by the build-up of calcium (mineral deposits) on the aortic valve leaflets. Over time, the leaflets can become stiff and no longer fully open and close. When the leaflets don’t fully open, the heart must work harder to push blood through the aortic valve to the body. Because of this extra work, the ventricle walls become thicker over time.
Sometimes the valve leaflets become damaged and fail to close completely. When this happens, some of the blood can leak backwards, in the wrong direction, instead of going forward.
This valve problem makes it hard for the heart to pump enough blood to the rest of the body. This problem can be caused by infection, rheumatic fever, coronary artery disease or can be related to age.
Moderate to severe mitral regurgitation (MR) is undertreated despite being a common problem. Only 2% of the estimated 1.7 million patients with moderate to severe MR are treated, and often it is because they are too sick for surgery.1,4 There is a poor prognosis at one-year is MR is not effectively treated:
- Left ventricle becomes enlarged and “baggy”
- Increasing MR
- Increasing pressure on the heart
- Muscle damage and/or loss
- Left ventricle unable to effectively pump blood
MR is a common, progressive disease that initiates a cascade of events progressing to heart failure and potentially death, if untreated.2,3