A leaky heart valve does not close properly, causing leakage between the heart chambers. Depending on the severity of the leak, there are different treatments available, from medication to surgery.

A leaky heart valve, or valve regurgitation, is the inability of a cardiovascular valve to close properly. This allows some of the blood pumping through the heart to flow backward instead of forward. Mitral valve regurgitation affects 24 million people worldwide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 2.5% of American adults have a type of valvular heart disease. Heart valve diseases most often affect older adults.

Primary regurgitation means regurgitation is the result of malfunctioning valve components. Secondary regurgitation means the leaky valve occurs as a result of another condition, such as dilation of the heart in cardiomyopathy.

A leaky heart valve can be asymptomatic, requiring no treatment. Frequent monitoring allows for intervention should a person’s condition worsen. Severe conditions typically require surgery to replace or repair the valve.

This article explains some of the ways that a doctor can treat a leaky valve, including different medications and procedures.

If a person does not have symptoms of a leaky heart valve, they do not typically require treatment. However, they may need treatment for underlying conditions that can worsen the leaking valve.

If the condition of the valve has the potential to cause significant disruption to their quality of life, a person may need treatment. Treating a leaky heart valve is important to prevent it from developing into heart failure.

The goals of heart valve regurgitation treatment are to reduce the signs and symptoms by improving heart function to prevent further future complications.

Medication alone will generally not fix a leaky heart valve. However, a cardiologist may prescribe medications to prevent the leaky valve from worsening, address related conditions, or prevent complications.

Some of these include:

  • Antihypertensive medications: Vasodilating medications, such as ACE inhibitors, help to reduce blood pressure by opening the blood vessels.
  • Anti-arrhythmic medications: These medications help to restore a regular pumping rhythm.
  • Antibiotics: These can help prevent endocarditis in people with leaky heart valves when undergoing certain dental procedures or surgery.
  • Anticoagulant medications: Doctors may prescribe blood-thinning medications for those with atrial fibrillation (A-fib) that can accompany a leaky valve. This can help to reduce the risk of stroke.
  • Diuretics: These medications reduce the amount of fluid in a person’s tissues.


While these medications do not cure heart valve problems, they may help slow the progression of the condition or treat underlying related conditions. Doctors may prescribe them for people who do not have severe valvular disease or those with severe disease who cannot undergo surgery.

Risks and side effects

Taking medicines always comes with possible side effects, and each of those a doctor may prescribe will have their own. A person should speak with their doctor about the specific side effects they may experience on their medication regime.

For example, one common medication for managing leaky heart valve symptoms is ACE inhibitors. Side effects of these include:

The mitral and aortic valves are the valves that are most often leaky.

Doctors will always prefer to try to repair a person’s heart where possible. There are several different ways that a surgeon may repair a leaky valve. These include:

  • Annuloplasty: This procedure tightens and strengthens the leaky valve, sometimes through the insertion of a plastic ring. This can prevent the valve from sagging or leaking.
  • Placing a stent: This allows a surgeon to plug a leaky valve.
  • Repairing supporting structure: Shortening cords that support the valves can allow the valve to close effectively.
  • Valve flap repair: Reshaping, reattaching, or even splitting valves that fuse can help to create normal blood flow through the heart.

A less invasive option is the implantation of a mitral clip. This reduces backward blood flow through the valve, repairing the leakage.


Valve repair surgeries have good long-term outcomes.

Benefits of successful valve repair procedures or other valve replacement may include:

  • improvements in quality of life
  • better chance of successful surgery
  • lower risk of postoperative complications such as stroke
  • more efficient heart function
  • anticoagulant medication to prevent valvular thrombosis is not necessary


There are potential risks involved with any surgical procedure.

Some of these include:

  • valve damage during surgery
  • injury to a surrounding blood vessel
  • major bleeding
  • stroke
  • infection
  • blood clots
  • arrhythmia

The surgeon can discuss any risks on the basis of individual circumstances.

Replacing a leaky valve is another option for treating valve regurgitation. According to the American Heart Association, aortic and mitral valves are the most common types of replacements.

Replacement valves can be biological, from human or animal tissues, or mechanical. Biological valves do not last as long.


Mechanical valves are durable and can last as long as a person lives. When a person cannot undergo valve repair surgery, valve replacement is a good second option.


Mechanical valves require a person to take anticoagulant medications for the rest of their life, as they carry a higher risk of blood clots.

Other possible risks of valve replacement surgery include:

  • stroke
  • blood clots
  • injury to the kidneys
  • injury to the heart and surrounding structures
  • if a new valve is ill-fitting, it may leak
  • bleeding
  • infection
  • arrhythmia

Asymptomatic leaky heart valves may not require any treatment. If symptoms develop, such as chest pain or breathlessness, a person should visit a cardiologist.

If a leaky valve is the cause of the symptoms, it may require a reparative or replacement surgery.

The type of valve causing the leak and the severity of the condition will affect the type of surgery a doctor recommends.