Heart conditions and other disorders, age-related changes, rheumatic fever, or infections can cause acquired heart valve disease. These factors change the shape or flexibility of once-normal heart valves.
The cause of congenital heart valve disease isn't known. It occurs before birth as the heart is forming. Congenital heart valve disease can occur alone or with other types of congenital heart defects.
Certain conditions can stretch and distort the heart valves. These conditions include:
Untreated strep throat or other infections with strep bacteria that progress to rheumatic fever can cause heart valve disease.
When the body tries to fight the strep infection, one or more heart valves may be damaged or scarred in the process. The aortic and mitral valves most often are affected. Symptoms of heart valve damage often don't appear until many years after recovery from rheumatic fever.
Today, most people who have strep infections are treated with antibiotics before rheumatic fever occurs. If you have strep throat, take all of the antibiotics your doctor prescribes, even if you feel better before the medicine is gone.
Heart valve disease caused by rheumatic fever mainly affects older adults who had strep infections before antibiotics were available. It also affects people from developing countries, where rheumatic fever is more common.
Common germs that enter the bloodstream and get carried to the heart can sometimes infect the inner surface of the heart, including the heart valves. This rare, but serious, infection is called infective endocarditis.
The germs can enter the bloodstream through needles, syringes, or other medical devices and through breaks in the skin or gums. Often, the body's defenses fight off the germs and no infection occurs. Sometimes these defenses fail, which leads to infective endocarditis.
Infective endocarditis can develop in people who already have abnormal blood flow through a heart valve as the result of congenital or acquired heart valve disease. The abnormal blood flow causes blood clots to form on the surface of the valve. The blood clots make it easier for germs to attach to and infect the valve.
Infective endocarditis can worsen existing heart valve disease.
Many other conditions and factors are linked to heart valve disease. However, the role they play in causing heart valve disease often isn't clear.
The main sign of heart valve disease is an unusual heartbeat sound called a heart murmur. Your doctor can hear a heart murmur with a stethoscope.
However, many people have heart murmurs without having heart valve disease or any other heart problems. Others may have heart murmurs due to heart valve disease, but have no other signs or symptoms.
Heart valve disease often worsens over time, so signs and symptoms may occur years after a heart murmur is first heard. Many people who have heart valve disease don't have any symptoms until they're middle-aged or older.
Other common signs and symptoms of heart valve disease relate to heart failure, which heart valve disease can cause. These signs and symptoms include:
Heart valve disease can cause chest pain that may happen only when you exert yourself. You also may notice a fluttering, racing, or irregular heartbeat. Some types of heart valve disease, such as aortic or mitral valve stenosis, can cause dizziness or fainting.
Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
All chest pain should be checked by a doctor. If you are in need of heart care and an evaluation of your condition, talk to your physician about a referral to
The Heart Valve Center of Texas.
Physicians are members of the medical staff at one of Baylor Scott & White Health's subsidiary, community or affiliated medical centers and are neither employees nor agents of those medical centers, Baylor Scott & White The Heart Hospital – Plano or Baylor Scott & White Health.