About heart valve disorders

Your heart has four valves — the aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid valves. They help move blood through your heart to your lungs, where it picks up oxygen, and then moves it to the rest of your body.

Sometimes there’s a problem with one or more of these valves. As a result, blood may not move through your body the way it should.

At UW Health, we offer many ways to treat heart valve disorders. Some, we helped pioneer. As one of the top-ranked heart hospitals in the country, we give you options. We find the best, safest treatment for you so you can get back to health.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Recognizing symptoms, getting a diagnosis

Some people with heart valve disorders were born with them. Others develop them later in life. In some cases, you have symptoms, but in others, you’re symptom-free. Your doctor hearing an abnormal heart sound during a routine exam might be the first sign of trouble.


Symptoms vary depending on the valve disorder, and include:

  • Chest pain or tightness

  • Fast, hard or irregular heartbeat

  • Fluttering discomfort in your chest or neck

  • Increased fatigue and weakness

  • Lightheadedness, dizziness or fainting

  • Shortness of breath

  • Swollen ankles and feet


At UW Health, we see patients that doctors send our way and those who come to us on their own. If you don’t have a diagnosis, we might do one or more of the following tests to see if you have a valve disorder:

Uses sound waves to create pictures of your heart. There are two types:

  • Transesophageal: Delivers sound waves with a probe passed down your esophagus. This allows us to get the probe very close to your heart.

  • Transthoracic: Delivers sound waves with a probe held against your chest.

A test that shows your heart’s electrical activity.

A test that reviews your heart’s electrical activity. It uses thin, flexible tubes that are threaded to your heart through a blood vessel. We then pass wire electrodes through the tubes.

An x-ray is a common way to see the inside of your body without an incision.

CT stands for computerized tomography and uses rotating X-ray machines to create images of the body. The scan X-rays cross sections of the body which provides more detail including blood vessels.

You walk on a treadmill, and the speed is increased so your heart has to work harder and pump more blood. This test helps evaluate how your valves are working.

Conditions we treat

A condition in which your aortic valve doesn’t close tightly. This valve moves blood from your heart into the large artery that carries the blood to the rest of your body. Aortic insufficiency causes blood to leak backwards from the valve and forces your heart to work harder.

A narrowing of your aortic valve, which helps move blood from your heart to the large artery that carries the blood to the rest of your body. A narrowed valve forces your heart to work harder. It may thicken your heart muscle and lead to heart failure.

A condition in which your aortic valve has only two leaflets. Normally, the valve has three leaflets that allow it to open and close properly. With just two, the valve may narrow, making it hard for blood to move through. In some cases, if the valve doesn’t close tightly, blood might leak backward instead.

Weakening of the mitral valve that prevents it from closing tightly and causes blood to leak backward. Your mitral valve controls blood flow from your left atrium into your left ventricle. Blood that picks up oxygen from your lungs returns to the left atrium. The left ventricle is your heart’s main pumping chamber, where blood is pushed out to your aorta.

Narrowing of the valve that controls blood flow from your left atrium, where blood that has picked up oxygen returns from your lungs, into your heart’s left ventricle. The left ventricle is your heart’s main pumping chamber. When blood has trouble getting through the narrowed valve, fluid and pressure may build up in your lungs.

A condition in which the mitral valve is larger than normal. When the valve closes, it may flop backwards. This allows blood that would normally move from your heart’s left atrium into the left ventricle to flow backwards.

Leakage from the valve that moves blood from your heart to your pulmonary artery. The pulmonary artery carries blood to your lungs to get oxygen. Pulmonary regurgitation most often occurs in people who had surgery for heart defects as children. We offer surgical and non-surgical treatment, including Harmony valve therapy.

Narrowing of the valve that moves blood from your heart to your pulmonary artery. This artery carries blood to your lungs to pick up oxygen.

Narrowing of the valve that moves blood needing oxygen coming to your heart’s right atrium to your right ventricle. From the right ventricle, blood is pumped to your lungs, where it’s oxygenated again. Stenosis causes your heart to work harder and can result in an enlarged atrium.

Occurs when your tricuspid valve doesn’t close properly. This causes blood to leak back into your right atrium from the right ventricle. It may cause the right atrium to enlarge.

Treatments and research

The right treatment is the one that’s best for you

We tailor your care to your condition. There are nonsurgical and surgical options, including some that are minimally invasive.

If a doctor elsewhere has suggested surgery, it’s worth coming to us to learn about your options through our second opinion program. We find the treatment that’s best for you

Medical management

If your valve disease is not severe, periodic heart ultrasounds (echocardiograms) and regular follow-up with your cardiologists may be recommended. For patients with valvular heart disease, addressing other cardiac risk factors (hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and hyperlipidemia) and incorporating a heart-healthy lifestyle (exercising, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and maintaining a normal body size) are important measures for improved cardiovascular health.

Surgery and catheter-based procedures

With surgery or by accessing your valves through your arteries, we can repair or replace a defective valve. There are many factors that impact the type of valve that is chosen for a valve replacement. Our heart valve team will discuss options with you, and the decision is individualized based on each patient’s unique situation. Mechanical valves can also be an option. Often, we can do procedures through small incisions and special instruments. These procedures might not require splitting your breastbone.

The Ross Procedure is one surgery we offer for a damaged aortic valve. It involves replacing your damaged valve with your pulmonary valve. We then replace your pulmonary valve with a donor valve.

TAVR is a treatment for aortic stenosis. It may be an option for some people if open heart surgery is too risky. UW Health was one of the first places in the country to offer this treatment. It involves threading a thin, flexible tube called a catheter through an artery in your leg or arm up to your diseased valve. The catheter delivers a new, mechanical valve.

We offer the MitraClip device to treat mitral regurgitation. It may be a less invasive option for you. During this procedure, we thread a thin, flexible tube called a catheter through a vein in your leg to your heart’s mitral valve. We deliver a small clip through the catheter. The clip will grasp the leaflets of your valve to help close it up and prevent leakage.

This procedure involves placing a thin, flexible tube called a catheter into an artery and threading it to your heart. On the catheter’s tip is a balloon that we inflate. This stretches a narrowed valve so that blood can move through more easily.

UW Health offers Sapien, Melody and Harmony valve therapy as an alternatives to open-heart surgery to treat patients with severe pulmonary valve regurgitation (blood leaking backward into the right lower chamber of the heart) that can often result from a congenital heart defect.

These transcatheter pulmonary valves are implanted during a 2-4-hour procedure. A thin, hollow tube (catheter) with a collapsed valve on the end is inserted through a vein in the groin or in the neck and into the right side of the heart. Once the valve is in position, it is released from the catheter and expands to function in place. These valves open and close to push blood to flow in the correct direction.

Compared to open-heart surgery, benefits of the transcatheter valve therapies include: a shorter length of stay in the hospital (usually just overnight) and greatly reduced healing time. Most patients are back to normal activities within a week rather than 6-8 weeks for surgery. An additional advantage of the Harmony valve is that it can also host another valve inside of it, should additional therapy be needed later in life.

If you have pulmonary regurgitation and would like to learn more, schedule a consultation with our congenital heart disease specialists.

24-year-old Cole Hefty became the first patient at UW Health to receive the Harmony Transcatheter Pulmonary Valve (TPV), a new minimally invasive device designed for patients with severe pulmonary valve regurgitation.

Meet our team

Many specialists, one goal: Better health for you

At UW Health, a team of highly skilled doctors will take part in your care. Depending on your condition, you could see cardiologists, interventional cardiologists or cardiac surgeons for your treatment.

Our providers

Patient and support services

Tools to help you manage and recover

We have a number of resources to provide information and support if you have heart valve disease.

Cardiac rehabilitation

After surgery, we offer rehab in the hospital and when you return home. It’s geared at helping you live a heart-healthy lifestyle. We also guide you in safely increasing your activity level.

Health Facts for You


Care close to home