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Understanding Valve Disease
The heart is a pump that receives blood and transports it to the lungs to pick up oxygen and send it to the rest of the body to be used by all the organs and muscles. There are four pumping chambers within the heart. Two upper chambers of the heart - the atria - receive blood from the body (right atria) and the lungs (left atria). Two lower chambers of the heart - the ventricle - pump blood to the lungs (right ventricle) and to the body (left ventricle). The job of heart valves is to control the blood flow through the four chambers of the heart. A valve that functions normally allows blood to flow only in a forward direction.
The four valves are:
- Tricuspid Valve controls flow into the pumping chambers, located between the right atrium and the right ventricle.
- Mitral Valve controls flow into the pumping chambers, located between the left atrium and the left ventricle.
- Pulmonic Valve controls flow out of the pumping chambers, located between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery.
- Aortic Valve controls flow out of the pumping chamber, located between the left ventricle and the aorta.
The four heart valves in a normal functioning heart allow blood flow forward, but not backward into the previous chamber. The valves can become dysfunctional by becoming stenosed or narrowed. This is usually caused by fibrosis (scarring) or calcification. The valves can also become insufficient or leaky. This occurs because of weakened leaflets, torn supporting structures or dilated annulus (surrounding ring to which valve attaches). Some valves have a fixed narrowed hole and are actually stenosed and insufficient.