Problem: Heart Valve Regurgitation

Valve Regurgitation: When a Heart Valve Leaks

What's valve regurgitation?

Regurgitation animation

Regurgitation is the name for leaking heart valves. Sometimes the condition is minor and may not require treatment. At 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 that don't close correctly.

For example:

A leaking (regurgitant) 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 through the defective valve.

A leaking 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 backward from the aorta through the defective valve into the left ventricle when the ventricle relaxes.

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

Watch a mitral valve regurgitation animation.

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's the treatment for leaking valves?

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