Mitral regurgitation is an incompetent valve between the left atrium and the left ventricle. The flow of blood pumped by the heart is controlled by one-way valves. The mitral valve directs blood from the lungs into the heart. When it leaks, some of the blood that should be pumped into the body goes out, instead of back into the lungs. This is a serious condition that requires care from your doctor. The sooner it is treated, the more favorable the outcome. If you suspect you have this condition, contact your doctor immediately.
There are several causes for leaky heart valves. Birth defects can deform them. Infections can scar them. Heart attacks can damage them, and the mechanics of an enlarged heart can stretch out the opening so that the valve is no longer large enough to work effectively.
- Rheumatic fever– Infectious diseases of several kinds can afflict the inside of the heart, leading to scarring of the heart’s valves. Rheumatic fever is a common cause of mitral valve damage.
- Heart attack – Inadequate blood supply to the heart can weaken the small muscles that hold the mitral valve in place, causing it to leak.
- Congenital deformity – Several different types of congenital heart defects distort the mitral valve.
- Heart muscle disease – Not only infections, but many other types of disease can weaken the heart muscle, stretching out the mitral valve ring so that the valve no longer closes. Among these causes are alcohol, certain drugs, radiation, muscular dystrophies, malnutrition, cancer and a long list of inflammatory and metabolic disorders.
The following factors increase your chances of developing mitral regurgitation. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor:
- A history of rheumatic fever or other serious infectious disease
- Inflammatory diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
- Storage diseases such as hemochromatosis and glycogen storage disease
- Heart disease
- Muscle disease
- Radiation exposure
- Exposure to certain drugs – e.g., lithium, sulfonamides, cancer chemotherapy, phenothiazines
If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to being out of condition. These symptoms may be caused by mitral regurgitation or other serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.
- Chronic, progressive fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Worsening shortness of breath when you lie down
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. Leaking heart valves usually make sounds that can be heard through a stethoscope. You will likely be referred to a cardiologist.
Tests may include the following:
- Chest x-ray
- Cardiac ultrasound (echocardiogram)
- Cardiac catheterization
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Treat underlying disease
Treating heart failure and heart disease may render the mitral valve competent.
There are several open heart surgical procedures that can fix leaking valves. The type chosen will depend upon the particular nature of the valve.
To help reduce your chances of getting mitral regurgitation, take the following steps:
- Prevent heart disease – control weight and blood pressure, exercise, eat heart-healthy foods, and watch your cholesterol levels
- Avoid contact with streptococcal diseases – including strep throat, tonsillitis, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever
- Limit alcohol intake