What Is Mitral Valve Prolapse?
You have two chambers on the left side of your heart: your
left atrium and your left ventricle. Your mitral valve, which is located
between the two, is designed to allow blood to flow into the left ventricle but
blocked from flowing back into the left atrium.
In mitral valve prolapse (MVP), also called Barlow’s
syndrome, the flaps of the mitral valve do not close correctly. Instead, the
valve bulges into the atrium. This can lead to mitral valve regurgitation, which
means that blood leaks back into the left atrium through the prolapsed valve.
Only about three percent of Americans have mitral valve
prolapse, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and among
these cases, serious complications are uncommon. (NHLBI)
Most of the time, people with MVP do not have any symptoms, and it does not
affect their daily lives.
What Are Risk Factors for Mitral Valve Prolapse?
Experts do not know exactly what causes MVP. Most people are
born with abnormalities that cause the condition. These may include mitral
valve flaps that are too big, thick, or stretchy. (NHLBI)
The Mayo Clinic reports that MVP is most commonly found in
men over age 50. (Mayo)
It is also found more often in people born with disorders of the connective
tissue (collagen, ligaments, tendons, etc.).
MVP often runs in families, so you may be more likely to
have it if your parents or other relatives do.
Certain conditions may lead to mitral valve prolapse. These
- scoliosis–curvature of the
- adult polycystic kidney
disease–a genetic condition in which large cysts interfere with kidney
- Connective tissue problems
such as Marfan’s syndrome–a genetic condition that affects the connective
tissue of the skeletal and cardiovascular systems, eyes, and skin
What Are the Symptoms of Mitral Valve Prolapse?
Because mitral valve prolapse often causes no symptoms, most
people with this condition are unaware that they have heart problems.
If you do develop symptoms, they will generally be mild. The
onset of symptoms is typically slow and gradual rather than abrupt.
When symptoms do occur, they may include:
- fatigue and tiredness
- shortness of breath, especially during exercise
or when lying flat
You might also develop migraines (recurring headaches that
can cause nausea) or experience pain in your chest. This pain is not caused by
heart muscle blood flow seen with heart attacks. Your heartbeat might feel fast
How Is Mitral Valve Prolapse Diagnosed?
Your doctor will generally perform several tests to better
understand your heart before making a diagnosis.
In most cases, your doctor will initially detect MVP when
using a stethoscope to listen to your heart. If you have the condition, your
heart may make a clicking sound when it beats. This sound is usually more
noticeable when you are standing. Hearing this click might lead your doctor to
order further tests.
Your doctor may order an X-ray and/or an echocardiogram. Both
of these tests provide images of your heart, but the echocardiogram shows more
structural details. Your doctor can check the images to see if you have MVP or
regurgitation. Depending on your condition, your doctor may also perform a
cardiac catheterization. In this procedure, dye (which is visible on X-rays) is
injected into the arteries of your heart using a catheter (tube) that has been
threaded through a blood vessel in your neck, arm, or upper thigh.
Your doctor might ask you to exercise on a treadmill or
perform some other physical activity to see how your heart responds. This is
called a stress test.
An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a way to check your heartbeat
for irregularities. It is a recording of a few seconds of your heart’s
electrical activity. This can help your doctor diagnose mitral valve prolapse
or other heart conditions.
How Is Mitral Valve Prolapse Treated?
In most cases, you won’t need any treatment for mitral valve
prolapse. However, if you have noticeable symptoms, your doctor might choose to
treat your condition.
Treatment often involves taking medications to help relieve
any symptoms you’re experiencing. Possible medications your doctor might
- aspirin–to reduce the risk
of blood clots
- beta blockers–to prevent
your heart from beating irregularly and to improve blood flow
- blood thinners–to prevent
- diuretics–to remove excess
fluid from the lungs
- vasodilators–to widen the
blood vessels and improve blood flow
If your condition is more serious, such as if you have
severe regurgitation or impaired heart function, you may need surgery. There
are two basic types of surgery for this issue: valve replacement and valve
repair. Your doctor will generally opt to repair the valve if possible.
If repairing the valve isn’t possible, it may be replaced
with either a man-made mechanical valve or a biological valve harvested from a
cow or pig or created from human tissue. There are pros and cons to both kinds
of valves, so your doctor will discuss your options with you before the