Problem: Heart Valve Regurgitation

Updated:Sep 29,2016
What's the problem?
Regurgitation diagram

What is valve regurgitation?

Regurgitation is the name for leaking heart valves. Sometimes the condition is minor and may not require treatment, but other times valve regurgitation places a strain on the heart. It can cause the heart to work harder and it may not pump the same amount of blood.

Regurgitation occurs when:

  • Blood flows back through the valve as the leaflets are closing

OR

  • Blood leaks through the leaflets when they should be completely closed

For example:

Regurgitation animation

Watch an animation of mitral valve regurgitation

A leaking mitral valve allows blood to flow in two directions during the contraction. Some blood flows from the ventricle through the aortic valve – as it should – and some blood flows back into the atrium.

A leaking (or regurgitant) aortic valve allows blood to flow in two directions. Oxygen-rich blood either flows out through the aorta to the body – as it should – or it flows backwards from the aorta into the left ventricle when the ventricle relaxes.

Leaking valves can cause the heart to work harder to pump the same amount of blood.

How does valve regurgitation develop?

Valve regurgitation can come on suddenly or it may develop gradually over decades.

Read more about regurgitation and specific valves:

  • Mitral regurgitation is leakage of blood backward through the mitral valve each time the left ventricle contracts.
  • Aortic valve regurgitation may stem from a congenital heart defect, complications of an infection or other more rare causes.
  • Pulmonary or pulmonic regurgitation is more rare and is usually a result of other problems like pulmonary hypertension.
  • Tricuspid regurgitation is more commonly caused by an enlarged lower chamber on the right side of the heart, but it may also develop in response to other valve problems on the left side of the heart that end up straining the entire system.

What is the treatment for leaking valves?

Based on the severity of the problem, leaking valves may require surgical repair or replacement.

This content was last reviewed May 2016.


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