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Valvular heart disease can be congenital or acquired. Acquired valvular heart disease can be caused by many factors. Until some years ago, most valvular heart disease was secondary to rheumatic fever. At the present time, in developed countries, the main cause of valvular heart disease is valve degeneration.
Valve degeneration is particularly related to age and can be of two types:
Degenerative calcification. This involves the thickening of the cusps of the aortic or mitral valve.
Myxomatous degeneration. This particularly affects the mitral valve. The valve cusps are excessively stretchy and protrude into the left atrium on each heartbeat. In most people, myxomatous mitral valve degeneration, known as mitral valve prolapse, does not lead to valve failure. However, in a small percentage of people, mitral valve prolapse can lead to significant mitral regurgitation.
In addition to valve degeneration, valvular heart disease may be secondary to infections such as endocarditis, rheumatic fever, or coronary artery disease. Sometimes it is not known what causes valvular heart disease.
Risk factors related to the development of valvular heart disease
Age-related wear and calcification.
Congenital heart diseases.
Streptococcal infections that lead to rheumatic fever.
Infection affecting the heart walls and valves, known as infective endocarditis.