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Blood is pumped through your heart in only one direction. Heart valves play a key role in this one-way blood flow, opening and closing with each heartbeat. Pressure changes on either side of the valves cause them to open their flap-like "doors" (called cusps or leaflets) at just the right time, and then close tightly to prevent a backflow of blood.
If valve damage is mild, doctors may be able to treat it with medication. If damage to the valve is severe, surgery may be needed for repair or replacement.
In the United States, nearly all heart valve operations each year are done to repair or replace the mitral or aortic valves. These valves are on the left side of the heart, which works harder than the right. They control the flow of oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the rest of the body.