Healthy heart valves and muscle are essential for the heart to pump blood efficiently. Heart valve disorders are less common today in the UK than in the past because a major cause, rheumatic fever, is now rare. Heart muscle disorders often used to be fatal but have a better outlook now because of improved treatments.
The first articles in this section cover heart valve disorders. Blood is pumped around the body at very high pressure by the left side of the heart. The valves on this side, called the aortic and mitral valves, are therefore the ones most often affected by disorders. If a heart valve does not work properly, blood cannot circulate efficiently, and the heart has to pump harder or faster in order to compensate. The next articles discuss disorders of the heart muscle and the lining of the heart (the endocardium). Any disorder that affects the heart muscle reduces the heart’s efficiency and may eventually be fatal. The last article discusses rheumatic fever, a disorder that may damage the heart valves after many years.
Other disorders of the heart muscle, such as heart attack and heart failure, are discussed elsewhere in the guide (see Major cardiovascular disorders). Congenital heart disease is covered in the section on infancy and childhood.
For more information on the structure and function of the heart valves and muscle, see Blood Flow Through the Heart.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.