Mitral Valve Disease, which includes Mitral Valve Prolapse and Mitral Valve Regurgitation, may, at times, have few if any symptoms or complications.
However, (and in Cardiology, there’s always a “however”) Mitral Valve Disease may worsen over time, and cause some major problems – which is why you should know a little more about it, and why it should be regularly monitored by a physician.
The right atrium receives oxygen-poor blood from the body and pumps it to the right ventricle.
- The left atrium plays the vital role of receiving blood from the lungs via the pulmonary veins and pumping it to the left ventricle.
- The right ventricle pumps the oxygen-poor blood to the lungs.
- The left ventricle is the heart’s main pumping chamber and pushes oxygen-rich blood into the arteries, which carry the blood throughout the body.
This is the amazing system that keeps us alive.
➡ In normal operation, the leaflets open and close in a specific sequence. This allows the blood to flow in one direction, from the atrium to the ventricle.
➡ When the mitral valve works correctly, it closes completely when the left ventricle contracts. This prevents blood from backing up into the left atrium.
Under the umbrella of Mitral Valve Disease is a condition called Mitral Valve Prolapse, also known as “floppy valve syndrome.” In prolapse, the leaflets of the mitral valve bulge (prolapse) into the left atrium, like a parachute, during the heart’s contraction.
When the mitral valve doesn’t close tightly, the second phase, so to speak, of Mitral Valve Disease, “Mitral Regurgitation” (also known as mitral insufficiency) occurs, allowing blood to flow backward in the heart.
➡ The malfunctioning valve prevents blood from moving through the heart to the rest of your body, as it should.
➡ The amount of blood that backs up into the left atrium varies from person to person. In rare cases, a good amount of blood can back up, causing problems.
Causes of Mitral Valve Disease
Although Mitral Valve Prolapse affects around 2% of the population, a specific cause is not known, and it’s often found in people who have no other heart problem.
However, there may be a genetic cause. Some people are born with it and it tends to run in families.
Common abnormalities of the mitral valve include the following:
- The flaps of the mitral valve may be too large.
- The mitral valve opening may have stretched or not closed entirely.
- The flaps of the valve may be too loose, causing them to push back into the atrium of the heart.
Symptoms of a Mitral Valve Prolapse vary widely from person to person. Many people never have any symptoms and are surprised to learn that they have a heart condition.
However, some experience symptoms that develop and worsen over time.
They can include the following:
- shortness of breath
- a cough
- chronic tiredness
- dizziness or light-headedness
- chest pain and discomfort not related to a heart attack or another heart condition
- palpitations or the feeling of the heart skipping a beat or beating too hard
- racing heart
- irregular heartbeat
Common symptoms of Mitral Valve Regurgitation include:
- shortness of breath, especially with exertion or when you lie down
- fatigue, especially during times of increased activity
- a cough, especially at night or when lying down
- heart palpitations or a fluttering feeling in the heart
- swollen feet or ankles
- increased frequency of urination
Treatment depends on the seriousness of the condition if it’s getting worse and on the signs and symptoms.
When mild, the condition may never progress or pose a serious health threat. However, severe regurgitation may cause heart complications (such as thickening or enlargement of the heart wall), and need surgery to repair or replace the defective valve.
Because many other conditions may cause the same or similar symptoms as mitral valve prolapse, a correct diagnosis is important before initiating treatment.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with Mitral Valve Disease, see your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
Diagnosis and when to see a doctor
If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms more than once, please make an appointment with your doctor.
While many other conditions can cause similar symptoms as Mitral Valve Disease, anyone having severe chest pain should seek emergency care to rule out a heart attack.
Most people discover that they have a Mitral Valve Prolapse during a stethoscope exam at a routine doctor’s visit.
- The doctor may detect a heart murmur with a clicking sound.
At that point, he or she will likely send you for tests to confirm the diagnosis and severity of the condition.
These tests may include:
- an ultrasound of the heart known as an echocardiogram
- chest X-rays
- an exercise stress test
- an electrocardiogram (EKG), a test that records the heart’s electrical impulses
In serious cases, treatment may involve surgery to repair the valve or replace it with an artificial mitral valve.
Often, people with a Mitral Valve Disease do not need treatment. However, a doctor may treat the condition if a person has symptoms or a significant amount of blood backing up into their left atrium.
For most people, Mitral Valve Disease can be treated through mindful management.
- With this approach, the patient is asked to visit their doctor regularly for check-ups and report any new symptoms that would suggest the problem is getting worse.
If a person has a more severe case that causes symptoms, a doctor may prescribe medications to help manage the condition.
- For people who only experience chest discomfort or palpitations with minimal backflow, a doctor may prescribe drugs called beta-blockers.
For more significant symptoms or backflow, a doctor may prescribe a combination of medications, including the following:
- blood thinners to cut the risk of blood clots
- vasodilators to widen blood vessels
- diuretics to remove excess sodium and fluid
- medications to strengthen the heartbeat or regulate the heart’s rhythm
In very rare cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to treat very abnormal or severe cases of mitral valve disease.
Before a doctor recommends surgery, the patient will have experienced a high amount of blood back up into the atrium. This can cause severe symptoms or lead to other more serious complications.
Surgery may be performed as open-heart surgery or by using less invasive techniques.
Options for surgery include:
- Mitral valve repair to tighten the flaps of the valve and stop backward blood flow
- Valve replacement to replace valves that cannot be repaired with prosthetic valves
In most cases, Mitral Valve Disease is not serious. Many people may have it and experience no symptoms at all.
However, the condition may worsen over time and cause symptoms to develop. In rare cases, complications can occur and may include:
➡ arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms)
➡ infection of the inner tissues of the heart
With regular checkups, however, most people with Mitral Valve Disease can live normal, healthy lives.