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Heart Valve Disease

Heart valve disease, also referred to as valvular heart disease, occurs when one or more of your heart valves don't work properly.

When a valve does not open or close all the way, blood doesn’t move through the heart’s chambers the way it should. This can leave you weak and short of breath.

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, we use advanced diagnostic testing and surgical techniques to care for people with heart valve diseases and other serious heart defects.

Contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute

To request an appointment, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute:

What is Heart Valve Disease (Valvular Heart Disease)?

Your heart has four valves:

  • Aortic
  • Mitral
  • Pulmonic
  • Tricuspid

Birth defects, age-related changes, infections, or other conditions can damage one or more of your heart's valves. This can make your heart work harder and affect its ability to pump blood.

Left untreated, valvular heart disease can lead to stroke or heart failure.

Types of heart valve diseases

Heart valves can develop one or both of these problems:

  • Regurgitation — also known as a leaky valve, occurs when a valve doesn’t close tightly, allowing blood to leak back into the chambers instead of flowing forward through the heart.
  • Stenosis — occurs when a valve doesn’t open fully open. The valve may have become hardened or stiff from calcium deposits or scarring, narrowing the opening and restricting blood flow.

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, we offer standard and minimally invasive procedures to treat all types of heart valve diseases, including:

Why choose UPMC for heart valve care?

  • Our heart valve disease treatment experience — our surgeons have performed over 2,700 valve procedures in the last three years.
  • Our cardiac surgeons — pioneers of novel cardiac surgical procedures, including new techniques for durable valve repair on both mitral and aortic valves.
  • Our Center for Mitral Valve Disease — one of a small number of sites in the country where more than 1,000 TAVRs have been performed.
  • Our Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery — the largest heart surgery program in western Pennsylvania and one of the largest in the United States. 

Learn More About Heart Valve Disease 

From our Health Library

Heart Valve Disease Symptoms and Diagnosis

Heart valve disease symptoms

In people whose heart valve disease comes on severely and suddenly, symptoms can occur quickly.

If your disease develops slowly and your heart has time to adjust, you may barely notice your symptoms.

Symptoms of heart valve disease include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Swelling of your ankles, feet, or abdomen
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Quick weight gain
  • Chest discomfort

Diagnosing heart valve disease

Your doctor at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute may diagnose a heart valve problem during a physical exam by using a stethoscope to listen for a murmur (an abnormal heart sound).

Additional tests to confirm heart valve disease may include:

  • An echocardiogram
  • An electrocardiogram
  • Chest x-ray
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • MRI scans

Testing results

Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to expect your test results and will call you when they're available. 

Learn More About Tests for Diagnosing Heart Valve Disease

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Heart Valve Disease Treatment

UPMC's Heart and Vascular Institute offers a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to treating heart valve disease.

Our team of cardiologists, cardiovascular imaging experts, heart valve and aortic experts, and other specialists use state-of-the-art procedures to diagnose your valvular heart disease.

Then, based on the type and severity, we tailor treatments for your specific valve condition.

  • Mild to moderate severity - Medicines and lifestyle changes to relieve symptoms and lower risk of developing a life-threatening condition.
  • Moderate to severe severity - Heart valve repair or replacement surgery.

Exploring new treatments

Historically, treatment options for heart valve disease has been limited to surgical valve replacement and medical therapy.

Transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) is a promising treatment alternative for people with severe heart valve disease who are at high surgical risk. 

Learn More About Heart Valve Disease Treatment 

From our Health Library

Heart Valve Disease Educational Materials

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers educational information and videos about heart valve diseases and other heart and vascular conditions.

Many people find these resources helpful in answering their questions about their condition and preparing them for their procedure or diagnostic test. 

From our Health Library