Valvular heart disease is characterized by damage to or a defect in one of the four heart valves: the mitral, aortic, tricuspid or pulmonary.
Normally functioning valves ensure that blood flows with proper force in the proper direction at the proper time. In valvular heart disease, the valves become too narrow and hardened (stenotic) to open fully, or are unable to close completely (incompetent).
The severity of valvular heart disease varies. In mild cases there may be no symptoms, while in advanced cases, valvular heart disease may lead to heart failure and other complications. Treatment depends upon the extent of the disease. Often following identification of a valve abnormality, regular surveillance clinical follow up and echocardiograms are recommended on a 1-3 yearly basis depending on the severity of the abnormality.
When the valve abnormality is severe and/or causing significant symptoms, open heart valve surgery is an option for treatment. This involves repairing or replacing the diseased valve.
Further information is available on the British Heart Foundation website.
Newer techniques of transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVI/TAVR) are being developed to allow replacement of the aortic valve in aortic stenosis without the need for an open operation. This technology is currently recommended only for patients too high risk for traditional open heart surgery. However the future of valve surgery is likely to develop in this direction of minimally invasive surgery.