A comparative experimental study of the velocity field and the strain field produced down-stream of biological and mechanical artificial valves is presented. In order to determine the spatial and temporal distributions of these fields, a phase-locked stereoscopic particle image velocimetry (or 3D-PIV) technique was implemented. Emphasis was placed on the identification of the fundamental differences between the extensional and the shear components of the strain tensor. The analysis of the characteristic flows reveal that the strains in every direction may reach high values at different times during the cardiac cycle. It was found that elevated strain levels persist throughout the cardiac cycle as a result of all these contributions. Finally, it is suggested that the frequency with which the strain variations occur at particular instants and locations could be associated to the cumulative damage process of the blood constituents and should be taken into account in the overall assessment of existing valve types, as well as in future design efforts.