Understanding Heart Valve Problems and Causes

Many heart valve problems are first identified by the presence of a murmur, or sound that can be heard by listening to the heartbeat with a stethoscope. A murmur may sound like a “whooshing” noise as blood flows from one chamber to the next, or it may sound like an extra click when a valve allows back flow.

Some murmurs are harmless. Others can indicate an underlying problem with the valve. If a murmur is detected, here are some possible causes.

Murmurs may indicate valve problems including:

  • Stenosis: a narrowing or stiffening of the valve that prevents enough blood supply from flowing through
  • Regurgitation: when valves allow blood to flow backward into the chamber
  • Prolapse: a valve that has improperly closing leaflets
  • Atresia: a valve that is improperly formed or missing

Understanding your heart valve problem: Which solution may be right for you?

Heart valve treatment explorer screenshot

Walk through a step-by-step interactive guide explaining your valve issue and treatment options with helpful videos, text summaries and links along the way.

Causes of Valve Problems

The causes of valve problems can often be linked to birth defects, related to age or caused by another condition.

Congenital defects (abnormalities present at birth):

Aging and age-related valve disease include:

  • Degenerative valve disease – Over time valves can slowly degenerate. This most commonly affects the mitral valve. For example, mitral valve prolapse, a condition that affects 2% to 3% of the population, may eventually lead to mitral valve regurgitation and require treatment.
  • Calcification due to aging – Sometimes calcium can accumulate on the heart's valves, most commonly affecting the aortic valve, and can lead to aortic stenosis.
  • Mediastinal radiation therapy (radiation to the chest) – Studies have shown childhood cancer survivors who had radiation therapy have an increased chance of valve disease later in life.

Related illnesses and conditions that can cause valve problems:

These conditions can cause one or more of the heart valves to leak blood backward into the heart chambers or fail to open fully. This makes your heart work harder and lessens its ability to pump blood. Although valve problems can potentially be severe and life-threatening, most valve conditions are also highly treatable.


Heart Murmurs and Valve Problems
Valve Stenosis: When a Heart Valve is Too Narrow
Valve Regurgitation: When a Heart Valve Leaks

Heart Valve Disease Resources

Find out more about your heart valves and how to manage heart valve disease.