Leaky Heart Valve (Mitral Valve Regurgitation)

Overview

What is a leaky heart valve?

The heart has four valves that open and close when the heart beats. They control blood flow through the four chambers of the heart so that blood goes in only one direction. But a valve may not close properly and lets blood through. That’s called a leaky heart valve, heart valve regurgitation or valve insufficiency.

With a leaky valve, sometimes not enough blood gets pumped to the rest of the body. Heart valve leakage/regurgitation can force the heart to work harder to do its job. The condition can lead to heart failure, sudden cardiac arrest, and death.

Are there different kinds of leaky valves?

A leaking heart valve can occur in any one of the four heart valves:

  • Aortic valve between the left ventricle and the aorta (main artery in the body).
  • Mitral valve, between the left atrium and the left ventricle.
  • Pulmonary valve, between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery.
  • Tricuspid valve, between the right atrium and the right ventricle.

A leaky valve allows blood to leak backward into the chamber it came from.

Location of the aortic valve, mitral valve, pulmonary valve and tricuspid valve inside the heart.

Location of the aortic valve, mitral valve, pulmonary valve and tricuspid valve inside your heart.

How common is heart valve leakage?

Leaky heart valves are fairly common. Approximately 10% of the total population has one. Mitral valve regurgitation is the most common type. Mild cases of leaking usually do not cause any symptoms or problems.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes a leaking heart valve?

Several things can lead to a leaky valve:

What are the symptoms of valve insufficiency?

A mild case of heart valve leakage usually does not cause any symptoms at all. But over time, a leaky valve can cause some symptoms that tend to worsen. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to a healthcare provider:

  • Dizziness or fainting.
  • Fast or fluttering heartbeat.
  • Pain or pressure in the chest.
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea).
  • Swollen ankles or feet.
  • Unusual fatigue/tiredness.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is a leaking heart valve diagnosed?

To diagnose a leaky heart valve, your healthcare provider will use several strategies. Diagnosis usually includes a physical exam and some heart tests.

During a physical exam, the healthcare provider will:

  • Ask you about your symptoms and how long they’ve been happening.
  • Ask you about your medical history.
  • Listen to your heart and lungs. Leaky heart valves often cause heart murmurs, which can be detected with a stethoscope.
  • Take your blood pressure.
  • Weigh you.

Diagnostic tests can help the healthcare team see the heart and detect any problems:

Management and Treatment

How is a leaky heart valve treated?

Some cases don’t require any treatment. But treatment may be necessary if the condition:

  • Affects your ability to have an enjoyable or productive life.
  • Causes troubling symptoms.
  • Places a strain on your heart.
  • Threatens to shorten your life span.

If needed, there are many types of heart valve surgery to repair or replace a leaky valve. Your healthcare team will help you decide what procedure is right for you. The decision will be based on which valve is involved and the particular cause of the leak.

Some examples of procedures include:

  • Valve repair, which often includes an annuloplasty which is a ring that is used to tighten or reinforce the leaky valve.
  • Procedures to place a clip on the valve.
  • Surgery to replace the leaking valve with a device made of carbon and metal.
  • Surgery to replace the valve with one donated from a deceased human or animal.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk of heart valve leakage?

You can't prevent most causes of heart valve regurgitation. But you can reduce the chance of all heart conditions by taking good care of yourself:

  • Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get enough rest.
  • Limit or eliminate unhealthy things such as alcohol, illegal drugs, smoking, and foods high in fat or salt.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduce stress.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for people with a leaking heart valve?

Talk to your healthcare provider about prognosis (life expectancy) in your particular case. The outlook for a person with heart valve leakage depends on many factors, including:

  • How long the leak has been occurring.
  • How severe the leak is.
  • Which heart valve is involved.
  • Presence of any heart damage.
  • Your body’s response to treatment.
  • Your overall health.

Living With

How can I take care of myself with a leaky heart valve?

A leaky valve can contribute to heart failure and cardiac arrest. So you should take good care of yourself to improve your overall heart health. The following lifestyle changes can help ease the symptoms and prevent more serious heart problems:

  • Avoid alcohol, smoking and illegal drugs.
  • Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet, avoiding too much salt or fat.
  • Exercise: Start slowly, and always warm up and cool down.
  • Follow your treatment plan carefully, including getting all tests that were ordered and taking all medications as prescribed.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduce stress and get plenty of rest.

When should I seek medical attention?

A leaky valve can lead to heart failure and cardiac arrest. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience:

  • Chest pain.
  • Fainting or extreme weakness.
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat.
  • Sudden and severe shortness of breath.

What else should I ask my healthcare provider?

To learn more about how a leaky heart valve is affecting you, consider asking your healthcare provider:

  • Which valve is affected?
  • What is causing the leaky valve?
  • What lifestyle changes might help?
  • Should I have a procedure to repair or replace the heart valve?
  • Can I still do all of my normal activities?
  • What is my prognosis?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

A leaky heart valve doesn't close properly when the heart beats. Heart valve leakage can place extra strain on the heart and cause symptoms or even heart failure. If you have symptoms of a leaking heart valve, talk to your healthcare provider. There are many ways to repair or replace a valve, and lifestyle changes may help.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/09/2021.

References

  • American Heart Association. . Accessed 3/1/2021.Heart Valve Disease Symptom Tracker (https://www.heart.org/-/media/files/health-topics/heart-valve-disease/valve-disease-symptom-tracker-ucm_457876.pdf?la=en)
  • American Heart Association. . Accessed 3/1/2021.Options for Heart Valve Replacement (https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-valve-problems-and-disease/understanding-your-heart-valve-treatment-options/options-for-heart-valve-replacement)
  • American Heart Association. Accessed 3/1/2021.Problem: Heart Valve Regurgitation. (https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-valve-problems-and-disease/heart-valve-problems-and-causes/problem-heart-valve-regurgitation)
  • American Heart Association. . Accessed 3/1/2021.Testing for Heart Valve Problems (https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-valve-problems-and-disease/getting-an-accurate-heart-valve-diagnosis/testing-for-heart-valve-problems)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 3/1/2021.Valvular Heart Disease. (https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/valvular_disease.htm)
  • Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Accessed 3/1/2021.Heart Valve Surgery. (https://www.heartandstroke.ca/heart-disease/treatments/surgery-and-other-procedures/heart-valve-surgery)
  • CardioSmart. American College of Cardiology. . Accessed 3/1/2021.Heart Valve Disease (https://www.cardiosmart.org/assets/infographic/heart-valve-disease)

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