We don’t often think about the valves of the heart, but when they aren’t operating effectively, it can disrupt the heart’s normal function. That’s the case with mitral valve prolapse.
The mitral valve is located on the left side of the heart, and it helps blood on that side of the heart flow efficiently in one direction. The valve is important, because without it, blood can move backward when the heart beats.
Normally, the mitral valve seals off, or closes tightly, allowing blood to flow from the left atrium into the left ventricle, but not in the opposite direction. Sometimes, though, flaps located on the valve become “floppy” and don’t close tightly. This is called mitral valve prolapse. Oftentimes, this condition can lead to mitral valve regurgitation, which is when a small amount of blood flows backward through the valve.
Unlike most heart health conditions, mitral valve prolapse is not associated with unhealthy lifestyle habits. Any person of any age, race, and gender can develop the condition, though certain factors can increase your risk.
Risk factors include:
- Advanced age
- Certain types of muscular dystrophy
- Connective tissue disorders
- Graves’ disease
- Rheumatic fever
- Scoliosis and other skeletal problems
Though it sounds like it could cause significant health issues, in most cases, mitral valve prolapse is harmless. Many people who have the condition experience no symptoms and are unaware they’re affected.
When the mitral valve’s flaps flop open and allow blood to leak backward into the left atrium, though, symptoms may develop, including:
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
In rare cases, mitral valve prolapse can lead to serious complications.
Arrhythmias are one such complication, and these heart rhythm disruptions may cause your heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. When this occurs, your heart is unable to pump enough oxygenated blood to organs and tissues in the body.
Infection of the mitral valve can also occur when bacteria attach to the mitral valve, causing an infection called “infective endocarditis.” While this condition is very rare, it occurs most commonly in people with mitral valve prolapse.
How is mitral valve prolapse treated?
Treatment for mitral valve prolapse varies depending on the severity of the condition. In most cases, since people with the condition don’t experience symptoms, no treatment is required.
In cases where mitral valve prolapse results in blood flowing backward into the left atrium, known as regurgitation, treatment will be focused on correcting any obvious underlying mitral valve problem, preventing complications, and relieving symptoms.
Treatment may include medications to alleviate symptoms, such as beta blockers to treat heart palpitations and blood thinners to reduce the risk of blood clots. In cases where regurgitation is severe and the mitral valve is very abnormal, surgery may be recommended. This can include the repair or replacement of the mitral valve through cardiothoracic surgery or a minimally-invasive structural heart procedure.
Doctors may also recommend that those diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse practice heart-healthy lifestyle habits, including exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, finding healthy ways to manage stress, and quitting smoking.
Why choose Georgia Heart Institute?
With experienced and knowledgeable valve experts in interventional cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery, Georgia Heart Institute offers the highest level of care and treatment for diseases of the mitral valve. Utilizing the most advanced and innovative care techniques and devices available, our dedicated team works to deliver to best possible outcomes and care experience possible. Ultimately, this keeps your heart at its healthiest for as long as possible.
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