When the mitral valve becomes leaky, it's called mitral valve regurgitation. It’s also known as mitral insufficiency. The mitral valve is one of the heart’s 4 valves. These valves help the blood flow through the heart’s 4 chambers and out to the body. The mitral valve lies between the left atrium and the left ventricle. Normally, the mitral valve prevents blood flowing back into the left atrium from the left ventricle. In mitral valve regurgitation, however, some blood leaks back through the valve. It doesn’t just flow forward into the ventricle the way it should. Because of this, the heart has to work harder than it should to get blood out to the body. If the regurgitation gets worse, some blood may start to back up into the lungs. A very small amount of mitral regurgitation is very common. However, a few people have severe mitral valve regurgitation.
Mitral valve regurgitation can be acute or chronic. With the acute condition, the valve suddenly becomes leaky. In this case, the heart doesn’t have time to adapt to the leak in the valve. In the chronic form, the valve gradually becomes leakier. The heart has time to adapt to the leak. Symptoms with acute mitral regurgitation are often severe. With chronic mitral regurgitation, the symptoms may range from mild to severe.
A range of medical conditions can cause mitral valve regurgitation, such as:
Acute mitral valve regurgitation is more likely to happen after a heart attack. It’s also more likely to happen after rupture of the tissue or muscle that supports the mitral valve. It can happen after an injury or heart valve infection.
You can reduce some risk factors for mitral valve regurgitation. For example:
There are other risk factors that you can’t change. For example, some conditions that can lead to mitral valve regurgitation are partly genetic.
Most people with chronic mitral valve regurgitation don’t notice any symptoms for a long time. People with mild or moderate mitral regurgitation often don’t have any symptoms. If the regurgitation becomes more severe, symptoms may start. They may be stronger and happen more often over time. They may include:
Acute, severe mitral valve regurgitation is a medical emergency and can cause serious symptoms such as:
Your healthcare provider will take your medical history and give you a physical exam. Using a stethoscope, your provider will check for heart murmurs and other signs of the condition. You may also have tests such as:
Treatment varies depending its cause. It also varies depending on how severe and sudden the condition is. And it depends on a your overall health. Mitral valve regurgitation can increase risk of other heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation.
If you have mild or moderate mitral valve regurgitation, you may not need any medical treatment. Your healthcare provider may just choose to watch your condition. You may need regular echocardiograms over time if you have moderate mitral valve regurgitation. Your healthcare provider might also prescribe medicines such as:
Surgery may be needed with severe mitral valve regurgitation. Surgery is often needed right away for acute severe mitral valve regurgitation. The surgeon may be able to repair the mitral valve. In some cases, a replacement valve is needed. Your surgeon might use a valve made of pig, cow, or human heart tissue. Man-made mechanical valves are another option. Talk with your surgeon about which one is right for you. Your surgeon might perform open surgery or a minimally invasive repair. If you have atrial fibrillation, the surgeon may do a Maze procedure. This is a type of heart surgery that can reduce the future risk of atrial fibrillation. Moderate or severe mitral regurgitation can cause problems during pregnancy. These women may need to have valve surgery before they become pregnant.
Mitral valve regurgitation can cause complications such as:
To reduce the risk of these complications, your healthcare provider may prescribe:
You'll need to see your healthcare provider for regular monitoring. See your healthcare provider right away if your symptoms change. Note your symptoms when exercising. Symptoms may get worse during physical activity. Talk with your provider about your exercise program and what is right for you. If you have progressive mitral regurgitation, your healthcare provider may advise avoiding competitive sports. Tell all of your healthcare providers and dentists about your medical history.
Your healthcare provider may want to treat you for heart problems related to mitral valve regurgitation. Treatments may include:
If you notice your symptoms are slowly getting worse, plan to see your healthcare provider. You may need surgery or a medicine change.
See your healthcare provider right away if:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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