The chambers in the left side of your heart, the atrium and ventricle, are separated by a valve known as the mitral valve prolapse. The mitral valve allows blood to flow in the proper direction and keeps it from flowing backwards when the heart beats by closing as blood passes through it.
In cases of mitral valve prolapse the valve doesn’t close afterwards and blood can flow backwards through the opening, although this is rarer than the condition itself.
- In many cases the condition is so minor that it isn’t noticed.
- It is observed in about seven percent of all autopsies.
- Ten percent of the population is estimated to have some type of mitral valve prolapse, although the vast majority of them are not affected by the condition.
- The condition is common among very thin women, particularly those with scoliosis or minor chest wall deformities.
- It can be associated with other conditions including Marfan syndrome, polycystic kidney disease, and other connective tissue conditions.
- Evidence suggests that it is an inherited condition.
- It is most common in men over the age of fifty.
Mitral Valve Prolapse Symptoms
While people with a mitral valve prolapse disorder are born with the condition, the vast majority of those with it will never experience symptoms. It isn’t until blood begins to leak backwards through the valve that symptoms usually present themselves, and the exact nature of these symptoms will vary in both appearance and severity from person to person.
- Unexplained chest pains
- Breathing troubles such as shortness of breath, usually made worse by physical activity or by lying on the back
- Racing heartbeat
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
In most cases these symptoms will develop gradually, and it is important to visit a doctor once you recognize them as a problem.
Mitral Valve Prolapse Diagnosis
Mitral valve prolapse is often referred to as ‘tick and murmur’ disorder due to the tell-tale sounds that are audible during a basic exam. If your doctor hears these sounds they will likely order additional tests to confirm a diagnosis of mitral valve prolapse.
- X-rays can deliver an image of your chest to the doctor and can be used to diagnose your condition.
- An echocardiogram is much more common and delivers an excellent image of your heart and the valves within it. The presence of leaving blood moving backwards through the prolapsed valve is also visible during these scans.
- A stress test, also called a treadmill test, will measure the effects of your mitral valve prolapse on your ability to exercise.
- Running an EKG could also uncover the exact nature of your condition through the measurements of your heart’s electrical activity.
- In the event your mitral valve prolapse might need surgery your physician could suggest a cardiac catheterization be performed. This involves the insertion of a tube into your veins near your groin which is moved through the vein to the heart. It releases dye into the heart which is visible to x-rays. This gives doctors a very specific look at the blood flow within your heart.
Mitral Valve Prolapse Treatment
The vast majority of mitral valve prolapse conditions will require no treatment at all. Serious conditions, however, could require various types of medical intervention.
- The first step will likely be medications. Drugs can help control a variety of different conditions including chest pain or arrhythmia. Depending upon your specific condition you could need to take aspirin, beta blockers, and blood thinners.
- If you’re experiencing mitral valve regurgitation – the leaking of blood backwards through the valve – you may need surgery. In most cases mitral valve repair can be completed, which involves the repair of your own valve so that it functions correctly.
- Serious defects may require valve replacement surgery wherein a mechanical valve or one made from artificial tissue is placed into the heart. Mechanical valves will necessitate the use of anticoagulant medications for the rest of your life.
The outlook for patients with mitral valve prolapse is very good, especially when you consider that many people live long lives without every realizing they even suffer from the condition. Even those who undergo surgery will likely have no long standing side effects from it.
Mitral Valve Prolapse Complications
Most complications caused by mitral valve only occur if blood begins to flow backwards through the valve. The most common complications are:
- Endocarditis, which is an infection of the heart valve.
- Clots, especially if a mechanical valve is used during surgery.
- Irregular heartbeats.
Calling your Health Provider
Contact your health provider if you begin to experience chest pains or constant fever and illnesses, or any of the symptoms listed above.
Since mitral valve is a birth defect, there are no real steps that can be taken to help prevent it. If you’ve been diagnosed with the condition, regular monitoring of it can help ensure that no complications arise.