What is mitral valve regurgitation?
regurgitation means that one of the valves in your heart—the mitral valve—is
letting blood leak backward into the heart.
Heart valves work like
one-way gates, helping blood flow in one direction between heart chambers or in
and out of the heart. The mitral valve is on the left side of your heart. It
lets blood flow from the upper to the lower heart chamber.
picture of mitral valve regurgitation .
mitral valve is damaged—for example, by an infection—it may no longer close
tightly. This lets blood leak backward, or regurgitate, into the upper chamber.
Your heart has to work harder to pump this extra blood.
leaks are usually not a problem. But more severe cases weaken the heart over
time and can lead to
What causes mitral valve regurgitation?
two forms of mitral valve regurgitation: chronic and acute.
- Chronic mitral valve regurgitation, the most common type, develops slowly. Many people with
this problem may have a valve that is prone to wear and tear. As the person
gets older, the valve gets weak and no longer closes tightly. Other causes
include heart failure,
congenital heart disease, a calcium buildup in the
valve, and other heart problems.
- Acute mitral valve regurgitation develops quickly and can be life-threatening. It
happens when the valve or nearby tissue ruptures suddenly. Instead of a slow
leak, blood builds up quickly in the left side of the heart. Your heart doesn't
have time to adjust to this sudden buildup of blood the way it does with the
slow buildup of blood in chronic regurgitation. Common causes of acute
heart attack and a heart infection called
What are the symptoms?
If you have mild to
moderate chronic mitral valve regurgitation, you may
never have symptoms. If you have moderate to severe disease, you may not have
symptoms for decades.
If your heart weakens because of your
mitral valve, you may start to have symptoms of heart failure. Call your doctor
if you have any of these symptoms:
- Shortness of breath with activity, which
later develops into shortness of breath at rest and at
- Extreme tiredness and weakness.
- A buildup of
fluid in the legs and feet, called edema.
Acute mitral valve regurgitation
is an emergency. Symptoms come on rapidly. Symptoms include severe shortness of
breath, fast heart rate, lightheadedness, weakness, confusion, and chest pain.
How is mitral valve regurgitation diagnosed?
Because you may not have symptoms, a specific type of
heart murmur may be the first sign your doctor
notices. Further tests will be needed to check your heart. Tests may
- Echocardiograms, which use ultrasound to see how
serious the valve problem is.
electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) to look for abnormal
- A chest X-ray to check heart size.
- Cardiac catheterization to see how serious the problem is and to
coronary artery disease.
Finding out that something is wrong with your heart is
scary. You may feel depressed and worried. This is a common reaction. Sometimes
it helps to talk to others who have similar problems. Ask your doctor about
support groups in your area.
How is it treated?
Treatment for chronic cases includes regularly checking your heart to make
sure it is working properly. You may take medicines to relieve symptoms or to prevent or treat complications. Medicines include:
You may need surgery to repair or replace your mitral
valve if you get symptoms of heart failure, if the size of your left ventricle
(your heart's main pumping chamber) increases, or if your heart weakens.
If you have chronic mitral valve
regurgitation, your doctor may want you to make some lifestyle changes to ease
the load on your heart.
- You may need to be careful about physical
activity. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- You may need to cut down on salt in your diet.
Treatment for acute mitral valve regurgitation
occurs while you are in the hospital or the emergency room. You need surgery right away to repair or
replace the valve.