Valvular Heart Disease
HeartPoint animation: this will take approximately 1 minute to load.
It is easily understood that the muscle that we call the heart must continue to pump with adequate force to pump the blood that the body needs. "Valves" however are extremely important to the heart's efficiency. These delicate structures allow for the efficient flow of blood progressively forward through the heart's chambers, maximizing the efficiency of the heart muscle's work.
To review the flow of blood through the heart, you can check out "The Heart" animation. link
In the animation above, the Tricuspid Valve (between the right atrium and right ventricle) and the Pulmonic Valve (between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery) are illustrated to be working normally. After the right ventricle contracts, pressure is low in the chamber. The Tricuspid Valve, which had been closed from the pressure generated from the ventricle's contraction, now opens as the pressure of the blood from the right atrium has built up while the Tricuspid Valve was closed. The right ventricle will again contract, closing the Tricuspid Valve again, and pushing open the Pulmonic Valve. Once the right ventricle completes its contraction, the pressure in the pulmonary artery will be higher than in the right ventricle, and the Valve will close.
The valves on the left side of the heart, the Aortic Valve and the Mitral Valve however, are not working properly. Blood returns from the lungs and empties into the left atrium. In this illustration, the Mitral Valve opens properly when the left ventricle is finished contracting, and allows blood to flow into the left ventricle easily. When the left ventricle contracts however, blood is shown to flow back into the left atrium through the Mitral Valve. This backward flow of blood is called "regurgitation" or "insufficiency". Since it occurs through the Mitral Valve, it is termed "Mitral Regurgitation" or "Mitral Insufficiency".
The other valve on the left side of the heart, the Aortic Valve, is also illustrated to have the other main problem associated with heart valves. In this case, the valve is thickened and perhaps calcified. Instead of being easy to open as the left ventricle contracts, the left ventricle must push very hard to open the valve and allow blood to flow out to the rest of the body. This difficulty in opening the valve is called "stenosis", and since it involves the Aortic Valve, is called "Aortic Stenosis".
To learn more about the heart valves in health and disease, select "Tell Me More".
©COPY 1997 HeartPoint Updated May 1998
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