Mitral valve disease is a group of conditions that affect your mitral valve. This is the door from your left atrium to your left ventricle. Forms of the disease include stenosis, prolapse and regurgitation. You may have no symptoms, but some people have serious ones that affect quality of life. Severe cases need treatment to prevent complications.
Mitral valve disease refers to a group of conditions affecting the mitral valve in your heart. Mitral valve disease can be acquired (it develops over time as you get older) or congenital (you were born with it). It can be mild, moderate or severe. Treatment depends on how well your valve is working and the symptoms you’re having.
Your mitral valve lets blood flow from your left atrium to your left ventricle. These two chambers of your heart hold oxygen-rich blood from your lungs and pump that blood out to your body. When your mitral valve becomes diseased or damaged, it can’t work as well as it should. Mild damage may cause no symptoms and no major problems. But severe damage to your mitral valve can harm your heart over time and lead to serious problems like heart failure.
Heart valve disease refers to problems with any of your heart’s four valves. Some people with mitral valve disease also have problems with other valves in their hearts. It’s also possible to have valve disease along with other cardiovascular problems, like coronary artery disease.
Mitral valve disease can take different forms, and some people may have more than one form.
Mitral valve disease has three different forms. Each form affects your valve’s function in a slightly different way. To understand these differences, it’s important to know the basic structure of your mitral valve.
Your mitral valve is made of two strong flaps of tissue called leaflets or cusps. These flaps open and close in a coordinated rhythm to let blood flow out of your left atrium and into your left ventricle. They’re like traffic directors that let a few cars through at a time, then pause traffic, then let more cars through.
Mitral valve disease causes these flaps to be less efficient traffic directors. Instead of letting three cars go through, they may only let one or two. Or, they may let three cars through but then force one to go in reverse so it’s back where it started.
Your blood needs to flow through your heart efficiently. And it needs to keep moving forward in the right direction. Mitral valve disease can slow down your blood flow or cause it to leak in the wrong direction, depending on the form.
The three forms of mitral valve disease include:
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Mitral valve disease affects people of all ages. Some babies are born with mitral valve problems. Some adults are affected suddenly due to an infection in their heart or a heart attack. Usually, though, adults develop mitral valve disease over time as the valve slowly deteriorates.
One form, mitral valve prolapse, is more common among women and people assigned female at birth. However, mitral valve prolapse seems more dangerous for men and people assigned male at birth. They’re more likely to have prolapse that leads to severe regurgitation.
Some forms of mitral valve disease are more common than others.
About 1 in 100,000 people in the U.S. have mitral valve stenosis. It’s the least common form in the U.S. It’s more common in other countries with higher rates of rheumatic fever (a major cause of mitral stenosis).
Mitral valve prolapse is more common. It affects as many as 1 in 33 people in the U.S, but not all people with mitral valve prolapse develop significant valve leaks.
Mitral valve regurgitation is also common. About 1 in 10 people in the U.S. have a leak in one of their valves. Among those cases, most people have a leaky mitral valve.
The symptoms of mitral valve disease depend on the form you have. In some cases, symptoms also depend on the severity of the disease.
You may have no symptoms at all. If you do have symptoms, they can include:
Other conditions like atrial fibrillation and heart failure also can affect your symptoms.
There are many possible causes for mitral valve disease. These include:
Mitral valve disease is diagnosed through a physical exam and tests.
During the physical exam, your provider will listen to your heart with a stethoscope. Your provider will check to hear certain sounds associated with each form of mitral valve disease.
Your provider will also talk with you to learn about your medical history and risk factors.
You’ll then likely need at least one test to check your heart’s structure and function.
Echocardiography is the gold standard for diagnosing mitral valve disease. An echocardiogram (echo) uses ultrasound technology to check for valve disease and other heart problems.
Your provider may also recommend other tests to get a fuller picture of how your heart is working. These include:
Treatment for mitral valve disease depends on your symptoms. If you don’t have any symptoms, you may not need treatment. If you do have symptoms and need treatment, your provider will discuss your options with you.
Treatment options for mitral valve disease include:
Talk with your provider about the treatment option that’s best for you. Many factors affect your treatment plan, including:
Surgeries and procedures to treat mitral valve disease are generally very successful. The risk of complications is low. Possible complications are similar to those for other heart procedures, and include:
Risks vary based on the type of treatment you have and other factors, like whether you have coronary artery disease. Talk with your provider about the risks of your specific surgery or procedure.
In many cases, valve diseases can’t be prevented. But there are some actions you can take to lower your chances of developing valve disease as you get older. These include:
If you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy, talk with your provider about what you can do to lower your baby’s risk for congenital heart defects. Your provider will likely advise you to avoid:
Be sure to talk with your provider about any prescription medications you’re taking and how those might affect your pregnancy.
Genetic testing may be a good idea if you have a family history of congenital heart disease or connective tissue disorders.
The life expectancy for people with mitral valve disease depends on many factors. These include:
Talk with your provider about what to expect in your situation.
See your provider right away if you have any symptoms of mitral valve disease. Catching problems early can help you avoid serious complications later on.
Your provider may ask you to come back for routine visits. These may be to monitor a valve problem that is mild, or to follow up on your valve repair or replacement. It’s important to keep all these appointments.
Call 911 or your local emergency number if you experience:
If you’re on blood thinners (anticoagulants) and fall, you should also seek care right away. Blood thinners raise your risk of internal bleeding, especially after you fall. You might feel fine, but you still should get checked to make sure you don’t have internal bleeding. It can be fatal.
If you’ve been diagnosed with mitral valve disease, the next step is to learn more about your condition. Mitral valve disease can range from very mild to very severe. Your provider will tailor treatment to your needs. So, it’s helpful to learn about the severity of your valve disease, whether you need treatment and what your treatment options would be.
Ask your provider:
It’s also a good idea to learn more about who would perform your surgery or procedure. Consider asking:
Valve repair is complex. It’s important to find an experienced specialist who can manage the unique details of your specific case.
Your provider will tell you how to manage your specific condition. In general, it’s important to:
This may feel like a lot to handle at once. Talk with your provider about resources that can help you make lifestyle changes at a reasonable pace.
If you have any form of valve disease, it’s important to tell all your healthcare providers including your dentist. You may need to take antibiotics before certain dental or medical procedures.
It’s also important to update your medical information card (and create one if you don’t have one). This is a card you carry with you at all times that lists:
You should add to your card:
Talk with your provider about how to create or update your card if this is new to you. You can start by writing this information on a simple index card and keeping it in your wallet or purse.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Mitral valve disease affects everyone differently. You may have no symptoms and not even know you have a valve problem. Or, you might have symptoms that affect your daily life. Visit your provider for regular checkups. Let your provider know about any new or changing symptoms. Valve disease often can’t be prevented. But following heart-healthy guidelines can help keep your valves and your entire heart as healthy as possible for a long time to come.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/04/2022.
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