A leaky heart valve can result from genetic factors or from acquired injury to your heart. Common acquired causes of heart valve dysfunction include high blood pressure and heart attacks. While some degree of exercise is important to prevent deconditioning in someone with valvular heart disease, data on the impact of moderate-intensity exercise on heart disease is limited, and most doctors would recommend against high-intensity exercise for someone with advanced valvular disease.
About Valvular Heart Disease
Your heart has four chambers. Two of these are separated from the other two by valves -- the mitral and tricuspid valves, specifically. Two of these are also separated from the rest of your circulatory system by valves -- the aortic and pulmonic. Leaky heart valves -- in the medical world, referred to as "valvular heart disease" -- means that instead of flowing forward through your heart, as it usually does, blood flows backward. The most common site of valvular heart disease is in the valves of your left heart -- the aortic and mitral valves.
About Exercising With Leaky Valve
There is not a tremendous amount of data concerning the effects of exercising in someone with a leaky valve. However, as exercise places a greater burden on heart function, doctors are generally concerned that high-intensity exercise for someone with valvular disease may cause further deterioration of the valve, worsening symptoms of valve failure and impacting survival. According to Exercise is Medicine, a project of the American College of Sports Medicine, any exercise for someone with valvular heart disease should be low-impact to avoid these sorts of complications.
Evidence Against Exercise in Mitral Valve Disease
According to a study in the June 2010 edition of the "Journal of the American College of Cardiology," exercise in patients with moderate-to-severe mitral valve disease resulted in an increase in disease severity and an increase in symptoms of heart failure in about one-third of the patients. This would suggest that exercise is contraindicated in individuals with mitral valve disease.
Evidence for Exercise in Mitral Valve Disease
However, another study of effects of exercise on mitral valve disease published in the October 2010 issue of the journal "Echocardiography" reached different conclusions, finding that exercise had no effect on the severity of a particular kind of mitral valve disease. The apparently contradictory results of these two studies likely result from study design -- different patient populations with different grades of mitral valve disease were used in each.
Talk to Your Doctor
If you have valvular heart disease and you are considering starting an exercise program, the best thing you can do is to talk to your doctor, who will be able to make recommendations to you concerning exercise that are based on your specific stage and type of disease. Beginning an exercise routine without getting medical advice first would be inadvisable as it could result in a worsening of your disease.
Is This an Emergency?
- American College of Sports Medicine: Exercise is Medicine
- "Journal of the American College of Cardiology"; "Exercise-induced changes in degenerative mitral regurgitation"; J. Magne et al; July 2010
- "Echocardiography"; "Moderate exercise does not increase the severity of mitral regurgitation due to mitral valve prolapse"; R. Pecini et al; October 2010
- Johns Hopkins: Valvular Heart Disease