A minor abnormality of the mitral valve, also known as floppy mitral valve
- Most common between the ages of 20 and 40
- More common in females
- In some cases, the condition is inherited
- Lifestyle is not a significant factor
The mitral valve sits between the upper chamber (atrium) and the lower chamber (ventricle) on the left side of the heart. This valve normally closes tightly when the heart contracts to pump blood out into the circulation. In the disorder called mitral valve prolapse, the valve is slightly deformed and bulges back into the left atrium. This prolapse may allow a small amount of blood to leak back into the atrium (see Mitral incompetence). Mitral valve prolapse is common, occurring in up to 1 in 20 people. This condition occurs most commonly in young or middle-aged women, but often the cause is not known. In some cases, mitral valve prolapse is associated with the rare genetic disorder Marfan’s syndrome.
What are the symptoms?
Mitral valve prolapse usually causes no symptoms, and most people are unaware that they have the condition. If symptoms do occur, they are usually intermittent and may include:
Sharp, left-sided chest pains.
Palpitations (awareness of an irregular or abnormally rapid heartbeat).
There is also an increased chance that a floppy valve may become further damaged by an infection (see Infective endocarditis), particularly following dental procedures or surgery on the digestive or urinary tracts.
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor may suspect mitral valve prolapse if he or she hears a characteristic clicking sound when listening to your heart with a stethoscope. He or she may arrange for you to have tests, including an ECG, which monitors the electrical activity of the heart. A diagnosis of mitral valve prolapse is usually confirmed by echocardiography, which examines the movements of the valves. If you have palpitations, your heart rhythm may also be monitored over a period of 24 hours while you perform your normal activities (see Ambulatory ECG).
What is the treatment?
Most people with mitral valve prolapse need no treatment. If symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat cause problems, an antiarrhythmic drug may be prescribed.
The disorder usually has no effect on life expectancy, but, in very rare cases, mitral incompetence develops, leading to chronic heart failure. Heart valve replacement may then be needed, but the outlook is still good. An abnormal or replacement mitral valve is more susceptible to infection (see Infective endocarditis) than a normal valve. Your doctor will advise you to maintain good oral hygiene to reduce the risk of infection. You will also be told how to recognize symptoms of infective endocarditis so that treatment can be given promptly if it does develop.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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