Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood through your body.
Your heart has four chambers. The atria are the two upper chambers in your heart—the right atrium and the left atrium. The ventricles are the two lower chambers in your heart—the right ventricle and the left ventricle.
The atria pump blood into the ventricles. Your right ventricle pumps blood to your lungs, and your left ventricle pumps blood into your body.
The heart has four valves that control how blood flows in and out of your heart. The valves are like one-way doors that keep blood flowing in the right direction. The four heart valves are:
Tricuspid valve: Located between the right atrium and right ventricle
Pulmonary valve: Located between the right ventricle and the major vein of the body (vena cava)
Mitral valve: Located between the left atrium and right ventricle
Aortic valve: Located between the left ventricle and the major artery of the body (aorta)
Your heart valves can cause problems in 2 ways:
Sometimes a valve has both problems. Either problem can greatly limit your heart's ability to pump blood.
Faulty valves generally create abnormal heart sounds that a doctor can hear with a stethoscope. A murmur is a sound made by blood flowing through an abnormal valve.
Doctors then check how serious the valve problem is with:
Echocardiography (which is ultrasound of your heart)
Echocardiography can show how the valves are working.
Doctors treat a serious heart valve disorder by repairing or replacing the valve.
If a valve isn't opening wide enough, doctors may do a valvuloplasty. During valvuloplasty, the doctor inserts a thin, hollow tube (catheter) through a vein or artery into your heart. This is called cardiac catheterization. The doctor inflates a balloon on the tip of the catheter. The balloon pushes the valve open.
If a valve is seriously damaged, doctors can replace the valve with:
Doctors may do heart surgery to replace your valve. But sometimes doctors can replace a valve using a catheter during cardiac catheterization.
If you get a mechanical valve, you'll need to take blood-thinning medicine for the rest of your life, but the valve may last several decades. If you get a bioprosthetic valve, you'll need to take the medicine for only a few months, but the valve will last only 10 to 12 years.
People with damaged or replaced valves sometimes need antibiotics to prevent heart valve infection, such as when they: