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w w w . s t h e l e n a h o s p i t a l s . o r g | 3

Heart valves leak when the tissue flaps

that open and close with each heartbeat

don’t seal tightly. As a result, blood flows

back into the heart chamber instead of

forward through your arteries.

In such cases, the heart must work harder

and may not pump as well. As a result, the

risks for heart failure, stroke and cardiac

arrest all increase.

This is why it’s so important to detect and

treat leaks early. And doing that means

getting regular checkups.

A leaky valve could pose serious health problems





What are the symptoms?

At a checkup,

a doctor will

listen for a heart

murmur, the

main sign of a

leaky valve.

Other signs can

include unusual


shortness of

breath, and swollen ankles or feet.“A lot of

times, the symptoms will creep up on you

over time,” says Gan Dunnington, MD, a

cardiothoracic surgeon at the Adventist

Heart Institute. “You’ll convince yourself

you’re doing OK—or think you’re just

getting older.” But in reality, your heart

may be trying to tell you it’s in trouble.

How is it treated?

If a leaky valve causes serious health risks,

a surgeon can either repair or replace it.

Your doctor will help determine which

option is best for you.


valve problems

increase the risk

for an irregular

heartbeat, called

atrial fibrillation

(A-Fib). In that

case, “it’s really

important that

if you’re going

to have heart

surgery, your doctor is going to take

care of the A-Fib at the same time,”

says Andreas Sakopoulos, MD, a

cardiothoracic surgeon at the Adventist

Heart Institute. Not all surgeons do that,


At St. Helena Hospital, “we can

fix the valve and the A-Fib at the same

time,” says Dr. Dunnington.

To learn more about our cardiologists

and surgeons, call 888.529.9018

or visit

Andreas Sakopoulos,


Gan Dunnington, MD

The sound of a leaky faucet

may keep you up at night—

and raise your water bill.

But there’s another type

of leak that is a bigger

concern: a leaky heart valve.

That kind of leak, over time,

can harm your health.