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Structural Heart Disease - Symptoms and Causes

Structural heart disease, is a term used to describe defects or disorders of the heart’s structure. A structural heart problem may be present at birth or develop over time due to aging or underlying disease. Sometimes people develop structural heart disease because of another disease, such as atherosclerosis or high blood pressure.

No matter what type of structural heart disease you have or how it developed, the heart specialists at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health’s Center for Cardiovascular Health can help. Our structural heart program offers care for the full spectrum of structural heart diseases—including aortic stenosis, cardiomyopathy and myocarditis—through innovative, minimally invasive procedures. Learn about how we diagnose and treat structural heart disorders.

Types of structural heart disease

Your heart has four valves—aortic, mitral, tricuspid and pulmonic—that control blood flow in the heart by opening and closing. Structural heart disease occurs when one of the four valves doesn’t work as it should. Each valve has flaps that open and close to move blood in one direction through your heart. When the flaps aren’t working correctly, they can restrict blood from moving out of, or allow blood to leak back into, the heart. Heart valve disease can lead to many complications if left untreated, including heart failure, stroke, blood clots, arrhythmias and even death.

There are two major types of valve problems:

  • Regurgitation—occurs when the valve leaflets do not close tightly, and the valve leaks. 
  • Stenosis—occurs when the valve leaflets thicken or fuse together, and the valve cannot open completely.

Structural heart disease warning signs

Some people with structural heart disease have no symptoms, while others develop symptoms quickly, which is why it’s important to know the warning signs. Signs of structural heart disease may include:

  • Chest pain or rapid heartbeat 
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Lightheadedness or fainting 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the feet and ankles

Expert care for aortic stenosis

Aortic stenosis is a common type of structural heart disease characterized by a narrowing of the aortic valve opening. This narrowing inhibits blood flow to the rest of the body. The condition causes your heart to work harder to pump blood out of the smaller opening, which eventually weakens the heart muscle. Most often, aortic stenosis is a condition of aging, as calcium builds up on the valve leaflets over time. 

Minimally invasive treatment for aortic stenosis

A transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), also called transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI), is a minimally invasive procedure to replace a diseased aortic heart valve without removing the existing one. Your cardiologist may recommend this procedure if you have symptomatic aortic stenosis. TAVR can be a life-changing procedure that gets people back to enjoying a more active life again. The TAVR/TAVI team at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health includes specially trained cardiac surgeons, interventional cardiologists and nurse coordinators.

Watch our experts describe a TAVR procedure

Patient stories

It’s one thing for us to tell you about our services; it’s another for our patients to tell you their success stories. Our videos and stories illustrate how treatment changed the lives of people like you.

Resources and FAQs

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health is dedicated to your heart health. Learn more about structural heart disease on our resources and FAQ page.