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Anatomy and Function of the Heart Valves

Anatomy of the heart, view of the valves
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What are heart valves?

The heart consists of four chambers, two atria (upper chambers) and two ventricles (lower chambers). Blood passes through a valve before leaving each chamber of the heart. The valves prevent the backward flow of blood. Valves are actually flaps (leaflets) that act as one-way inlets for blood coming into a ventricle and one-way outlets for blood leaving a ventricle. Each valve has three flaps (leaflets), except the mitral valve, which only has two flaps. The four heart valves include the following:

How do the heart valves function?

As the heart muscle contracts and relaxes, the valves open and shut, letting blood flow into the ventricles and atria at alternate times. The following is a step-by-step description of how the valves function normally in the left ventricle:

What is heart valve disease?

Heart valves can have one of two malfunctions:

Heart valves can have both malfunctions at the same time (regurgitation and stenosis). When heart valves fail to open and close properly, the implications for the heart can be serious, possibly hampering the heart's ability to pump blood adequately through the body. Heart valve problems are one cause of heart failure.

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