Leaky Heart Valve: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

Leaky heart valve is a condition that affects the amount of blood flow that circulates to your heart and the rest of your body. While symptoms can be mild to non-noticeable, they can also be severe. In more serious cases, leaky heart valve can seriously impact your heart health and overall quality of life. 

Today, Carda is here to discuss what leaky heart valve is, its symptoms, and treatment options to help address this condition. Read on to learn more and to support your overall heart health.

What Is a Leaky Heart Valve?

A valve is an on-and-off device that controls the flow of something. For example, a faucet has a valve that controls the water flow in your sink. 

Your heart has valves, too, that control the flow of blood to your heart. The heart works with four valves, one for each of its four heart chambers. As your heart beats in its rhythm, your valves open and close, allowing blood to pump in a single direction through each of the chambers of your heart muscle. 

However, sometimes a valve malfunctions and does not fully close. Many factors, such as heart defects or risk factors like high cholesterol or high blood pressure, can cause a malfunction. 

When a heart valve cannot stay shut or close properly in the first place, blood leaks backward into the chamber it was just pumped from, disrupting blood flow. This is called leaky heart valve, also known as mitral valve regurgitation, heart valve regurgitation, or valve insufficiency. 

The disrupted blood flow that results from valve problems can decrease the amount of blood that flows to the heart. It can also decrease the amount of blood that flows from your heart to your organs and tissues. Cardiomyopathy refers to when the heart cannot as effectively pump blood to the rest of the body. 

Are There Different Types of Leaky Heart Valves?

There are four types of heart valve disease, each corresponding to a different valve in your heart muscle. As such, the four main types of leaky heart valve are leaky aortic valve, leaky mitral valve, leaky pulmonary valve, and leaky tricuspid valve. 

The most common type of leaky heart valve is a leaky mitral valve, also known as mitral valve regurgitation. This heart valve problem involves a malfunction in the valve on the left side of the heart, so blood flow diminishes between the left atrium and left ventricle. 

What Are the Symptoms of a Leaky Heart Valve?

Heart valve problems do not always lead to noticeable symptoms, especially if the leak is small. However, this condition can cause your heart to work a lot harder than it usually does to try and maintain its blood flow supply, which may, in turn, cause several different feelings. 

Signs and symptoms of leaky heart valves can include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, weakness and dizziness, swollen ankles or feet, and general chest discomfort. Usually, a healthcare provider will detect some of these symptoms through a physical exam, especially when listening to your heart on a stethoscope to evaluate your heart rhythm. 

If they detect an irregular heartbeat, they may refer you to cardiology for further analysis and may order other tests as well, such as a stress test, an electrocardiogram, or an echocardiogram. 

While symptoms can be mild, they can also be severe. If you experience symptoms beyond mild discomfort, you should immediately call for medical attention. Without medical attention for severe cases of leaky heart valves, congestive heart failure can result.

Let's look into each of these symptoms in more detail below. 

Heart Palpitations

Heart palpitations occur when your heart beats out of rhythm. You might notice that your heart skips a beat, beats very quickly for a few seconds, or pounds or heavily pulses in your chest. Generally, palpitations only last for several seconds before your heart returns to its normal pattern. 

If your heartbeat becomes rapidly irregular or your palpitations do not go away, you should seek medical care. 

Shortness of Breath

Leaky heart valve diminishes the blood flow that pumps through your heart, and your lungs closely connect to your heart. Without adequate blood flow pumping through your heart, your lungs sometimes don't get enough blood in their tissues to function optimally. This can lead to difficulties breathing, especially shortness of breath. 

If you notice that your shortness of breath begins to worsen, or occurs more frequently, then this could be a sign that your leaky heart valve is worsening. This is especially true if you start to shortness of breath at rest. 

Weakness and Dizziness

Leaky heart valve can also restrict blood flow from your heart to the rest of your organs and tissues. Inadequate blood supply to the rest of your body can leave you feeling weak, lightheaded, and dizzy. 

You should seek medical attention immediately if weakness becomes extreme or causes fainting. 

Swollen Ankles or Feet

Improper blood flow can cause poor blood circulation to the rest of your body, which can cause fluid retention and buildup in your extremities. Swollen ankles or feet are common areas to experience swelling when leaky heart valve presents. 

General Chest Discomfort

General chest discomfort can feel like a mild ache, tightness, or compression in your chest. 

If your chest discomfort turns into chest pain, such as a sharper ache, tightness, or heavy compression, seek medical attention right away. Additionally, if your chest discomfort persists or comes back frequently, seek medical attention immediately.

How Can a Leaky Heart Valve Be Addressed?

If the leak is mild and does not cause symptoms affecting your quality of life, your healthcare provider may not recommend any treatments. 

However, if your condition starts to interfere with your day-to-day life, or starts to cause you discomfort, then there are several different options — including surgical procedures, medication, or lifestyle changes — to address this. Let's take a look at each of the options that address valvular heart disease below.

Surgical Procedures

Heart surgery is one way to address a leaky heart valve and involves either repairing or altogether replacing the leaking valve. 

Procedures that fix the valve leak (mitral valve repair) often involve placing a clip or ring on the valve. A ring, in particular, can tighten the valve at the leak source, providing extra support to prevent future blood leakage. This valve repair procedure, called rink annuloplasty, incorporates a ring made from metal, tissue, or cloth over the area of your heart valve that already has a natural ring in order to tighten the valve and help steady the leak. 

Procedures that replace the leaky valve typically use a real, donated valve or an artificial valve made from carbon and metal.


Your healthcare provider may prescribe certain medications to help alleviate the symptoms of a leaky valve. These medications can also help prevent the leak from worsening, especially antihypertensive medications that target and aim to lower high blood pressure. ACE inhibitor medications help open up blood vessels to lower blood pressure. 

Your cardiologist may also prescribe a blood thinner to lessen your risk of developing a blood clot and a diuretic to lower fluid and sodium levels and help alleviate any swelling. If you experience heart palpitations, then beta-blockers and anti-arrhythmic medications can help address your abnormal heartbeat. 

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes that reflect a heart-healthy life can also help address a leaky heart valve. Eating a heart-healthy diet is important to your overall cardiac wellness and can help prevent a leaky valve from worsening. 

Try to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, lean meats, and low-fat dairy options. Additionally, try to limit the refined carbohydrates and processed foods you consume, as well as your alcohol intake. 

Other changes that reflect a heart-healthy life include engaging in regular physical activity, getting enough sleep every night, maintaining healthy body weight, managing your stress, and quitting smoking. 

Participating in a cardiac rehabilitation program can also help promote your heart health and focuses on recovery from cardiac conditions such as leaky heart valve. Carda offers a fully virtual cardiac rehab program because virtual rehab has not only shown to be more effective than in-person rehab but also less expensive. 

Take your free assessment today to get paired with an expert physiologist to guide you through your cardiac wellness journey. You will have all the tools you need, including live monitoring, to experience personalized care on your own time from the comfort of your own home. 

The Bottom Line

Leaky heart valve is a medical condition that occurs when one of the valves in your heart muscle cannot close properly. The inability to close affects the flow of blood through your heart and can result in insufficient blood pumping into the heart. It can also cause inadequate blood to pump from the heart to the rest of the body. 

Signs and symptoms of leaky heart valve can range from mild to severe, and the condition itself can range in severity from barely remarkable to a life-threatening illness that can lead to heart failure. 

If you experience signs of leaky heart valve, such as shortness of breath, general chest discomfort, heart palpitations, weakness or dizziness, or swollen ankles and feet, talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible. They might recommend medications, lifestyle changes, a cardiac rehabilitation program, or a surgical procedure to address your condition and to improve your overall quality of life. 


Mitral valve regurgitation - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Slightly leaky heart valves | Harvard Health

Medications for Heart Valve Symptoms | AHA

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