Causes of congenital heart valve problems are still unknown, because these valve problems form before birth. Acquired heart valve disease may be caused by a number of factors. Some of these factors are a natural outcome of aging, have hereditary elements, or can be managed with prevention. In all cases, regular checkups with your physician can help you maintain your heart valve health.
Risk factors for acquired heart valve problems include the following:
Rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever, which can result if strep throat is not treated, can damage the heart's valves, causing them to thicken. This can restrict the valves' ability to open or to close properly, or both.
Endocarditis. This infection of the lining (endocardium) of the heart is typically caused when bacteria from another part of your body, such as your mouth, travels to your heart. Endocarditis is both a cause and a symptom of heart valve damage. That is, patients who already have heart valve damage are more likely to acquire endocarditis, and endocarditis itself can damage heart valves.
Wear and tear with age. With age, valve leaflets, which open to allow blood to flow through the valve and close to prohibit blood flow, can become hardened and thick and lose their mobility, detracting from their ability to work as they should. Over time, the cords of tissue that hold valve flaps to the heart can become stretched or torn, interfering with the valve's proper function.
Heart attack. A heart attack, which occurs when a blockage in an artery to the heart muscle starves the heart of oxygen and nutrients and causes damage, can affect valve function.
High blood pressure. Persistent high blood pressure can cause your heart to work harder, causing the heart's pumping chamber (the left ventricle) to enlarge. As it enlarges, tissues around the heart valves can become stretched, preventing the valve from closing properly.