How Heart Valves Work and Things That Can Go Wrong

The valves in your heart play a key role in how your blood circulates through the organ, so when something goes wrong, it can affect your entire cardiovascular system. 

At Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, Dr. Rajiv Agarwal and our team of heart health experts want to ensure that patients understand the complexities of the heart. We believe that education is paramount, allowing you to recognize when there’s a problem and knowing when to seek our help.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how your heart valves work and what can go wrong with them.

Controlling flow

The primary role of your valves is to control the flow of blood through your heart. Your heart is made up of four chambers and each chamber features a valve that either lets blood in or releases it back out. 

To accomplish this, your valves are equipped with flaps, which are also called leaflets or cusps, that are attached to tough tissue called your annulus, which maintains the shape of the valve. These flaps open and close with each heartbeat, opening to allow blood to flow through and closing to prevent the blood from going backward.

To better understand the flow of your blood through your heart, let’s take a quick look at its journey. Your blood flows from your right atrium to your right ventricle through your tricuspid valve and from your left atrium to your left ventricle through your mitral valve. As each chamber fills, the corresponding valve shuts off to prevent blood from reversing its course.

To pick up oxygen, your blood exits your right ventricle through the pulmonic valve and when your blood is ready for circulation, it departs your left ventricle via your aortic valve and into your aorta.

Valve problems

There are any number of problems that can affect your valves, including:

Congenital defects

You’re born with valves that may be misshapen or that don’t function properly.


If the flaps of your valve become stiff, thick, or fuse together, this affects how they function.

Valve prolapse

This condition occurs when the flaps in your valve don’t close together properly and bulge upward. This can cause regurgitation, which means blood is leaking backward in the wrong direction.


If you’ve had endocarditis or another infection that affects your heart, it can impair your valves.

There are other conditions that can affect your valves, but these represent the most common.

Signs of valve disease

The signs of valve disease can be tricky and it depends upon the extent of the problem. A mild prolapse, for example, may go unnoticed for years, while valve conditions like stenosis can gradually make themselves known with:

Often, heart valve disease is progressive and you may only notice a problem as you get older.

At the first sign of any of these symptoms, we urge you to come and have us take a look. If we identify a heart valve problem, we offer a wide range of solutions from blood thinning medications to valve replacement.

To learn more about heart valve disease, simply contact one of our offices in the Humble, Texas, area to set up an appointment.

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