Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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.

​Heart Conditions and Other Disorders

Certain conditions can stretch and distort the heart valves. These conditions include:

  • Advanced high blood pressure and heart failure. This condition can enlarge the heart or the main arteries.
  • Atherosclerosis in the aorta. Atherosclerosis is a condition in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the arteries. The aorta is the main artery that carries oxygen-rich blood to the body.
  • Damage and scar tissue due to a heart attack​ or injury to the heart.

Rheumatic Fever

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.

Infections

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.

Other Conditions and Factors Linked to 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.

  • Autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, can affect the aortic and mitral valves.
  • Carcinoid syndrome. Tumors in the digestive tract that spread to the liver or lymph nodes can affect the tricuspid and pulmonary valves.
  • Diet medicines. The use of fenfluramine and phentermine sometimes has been linked to heart valve problems. These problems typically stabilize or improve after the medicine is stopped.
  • Marfan syndrome. Congenital disorders, such as Marfan syndrome and other connective tissue disorders, can affect the heart valves.
  • Metabolic disorders. Relatively uncommon diseases (such as Fabry​ disease) and other metabolic disorders (such as high blood cholesterol) can affect the heart valves.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy to the chest area can cause heart valve disease. This therapy is used to treat cancer. Heart valve disease due to radiation therapy may not cause symptoms until years after the therapy.

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease

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:

  • Unusual fatigue (tiredness)
  • Shortness of breath, especially when you exert yourself or when you're lying down
  • Swelling in your ankles, legs, abdomen, and veins in the neck

Other Signs and Symptoms

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.

When to See a Doctor

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​.

Main phone number: 469.814.3278  469.814.3278 (HEART)

1.877.814.4488  1.877.814.4488 Toll-free

Find a Physician

1.855.9BAYLOR  1.855.9BAYLOR
Chat now  Chat Now
Disclosure Statement