Your Heart and its Valves

The heart – the hardest working muscle in the human body – even works when we're at rest! Located almost in the center of the chest, the adult human heart is about the size of a fist. At an average rate of 80 times a minute, the heart beats about 115,000 times in one day or about 42 million times in a year. Its job is to pump blood filled with oxygen and nutrients through our blood vessels to the tissues throughout our body, creating the cardiovascular system.

Your Heart and its Valves

The heart is made of:

  • Four chambers (two atria and two ventricles) that receive blue (deoxygenated) blood from the body and pump out red (oxygen-rich) blood back to it:
    • The atria receive blood coming back to the heart.
    • The ventricles pump the blood out of the heart.
  • Blood vessels, which include a network of arteries and veins that carry blood throughout the body: Arteries transport blood from the heart to the body tissues. Veins carry blood back to the heart.
  • An electrical system that serves as a natural pacemaker and stimulates contraction of the heart muscle.
  • Four valves:
    • Mitral Valve – Controls flows of oxygen rich blood from the left atrium to the left ventricle.
    • Tricuspid Valve – Controls flow of oxygen poor blood from the right atrium to the right ventricle.
    • Aortic Valve – Controls flow of oxygen rich blood from the left ventricle to the body.
    • Pulmonary Valve – Controls flow of oxygen poor blood from the right ventricle to the lungs.

Healthy heart valves assure blood will flow smoothly through the heart in one direction. When a valve fails to close completely, blood is allowed to flow in the reverse direction. This is called regurgitation or insufficiency. Valves can also be narrowed by deposits of calcium; this is called stenosis.

Like any pump, if the valves fail, the pump must work harder to do its job. Since the heart is a muscle, it can enlarge to compensate for a diseased valve, but only up to a point before permanent damage and heart failure set in.