Mitral valve disease is when the heart’s mitral valve stops functioning correctly. This can lead to blood not flowing around the body correctly and cause several health complications.

The mitral valve resides in the heart between the upper left chamber, known as the left atrium, and the lower left chamber, known as the left ventricle. The primary function of the mitral valve is to allow the normal flow of blood from the left atrium to the left ventricle and to stop blood from going in the wrong direction.

This article discusses the different types of mitral valve disease, symptoms, causes, and treatment options that may be available.

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Mitral valve disease occurs when the mitral valve in the heart suffers from damage or disease and stops functioning correctly. This means the heart has to work harder, and a person may feel tired or breathless.

There are several different types of mitral valve disease, including mitral regurgitation (MR), mitral stenosis (MS), and mitral valve prolapse (MVP). MR typically affects over 2% of the total worldwide population, MS typically affects approximately 0.1% of people in the United States, and MVP typically affects 1.7% of the U.S. population.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, mitral valve disease accounted for 15% of the deaths due to valvular heart disease in the U.S.

What heart valves do

The valves in the heart are small flaps of skin, known as leaflets, that open and close every time the heart beats.

The valves help control the flow of blood around the heart and stop blood from going in the wrong direction.

The mitral valve is on the left side of the heart and helps the blood flow from the left atrium to the left ventricle.

Learn more about heart valves.

Mitral valve stenosis and mitral valve regurgitation are the two main types of mitral valve disease that can be serious if a person does not seek the appropriate treatment.

Mitral valve stenosis

Mitral valve stenosis (MS) occurs when the mitral valve narrows, stiffens, and cannot open wide enough to allow blood to flow through sufficiently. This restricts the flow of blood through the heart and can make a person feel tired or short of breath.

The most common cause of MS is rheumatic fever. However, symptoms do not typically appear until several years after an episode. If a person does not seek the appropriate treatment, MS can lead to serious health complications, including heart failure.

Mitral valve regurgitation

Mitral valve regurgitation (MR) occurs when the mitral valve leaks and some blood flows backward into the left atrium, which can result in an excess of blood and pressure in the left atrium. This can put extra pressure on the veins that run from the heart to the lungs and cause pulmonary hypertension.

There are medications available to help treat MR. Although typically, a person may require a surgical procedure to repair or replace the mitral valve.

Mitral valve prolapse

Doctors do not consider mitral valve prolapse (MVP) to be a type of mitral valve disease on its own. However, it is one of the main causes of MR.

MVP occurs when the mitral valve flaps do not close together smoothly or evenly. Instead, it bulges, or prolapses, upward into the left atrium.

The most common cause of MVP is a condition called myxomatous valve disease. This occurs when the leaflets or flaps of the valve are unusually stretchy.

MVP is typically harmless, and most of the time, a person may not realize they have the condition. Occasionally, a person with MVP may require treatment.

Mitral valve disease can be present from birth. There are several other reasons why mitral valve disease may develop, including:

  • floppy tissue of the mitral valve opening, known as myxomatous valve disease
  • tissue connective disorders, such as Marfan syndrome
  • damage to the muscles of the heart, such as a heart attack
  • rheumatic heart disease after an episode of rheumatic fever
  • a buildup of calcium on the mitral valve opening
  • the muscle surrounding the mitral valve becoming too wide
  • an infection of the heart lining known as endocarditis
  • a weakening of the muscles in the heart known as cardiomyopathy

Mitral valve disease does not always present with symptoms. A person may remain asymptomatic for several years.

When symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • dizziness or fainting
  • breathlessness
  • fatigue
  • an irregular heartbeat
  • chest pain
  • bloody phlegm

There are several methods a doctor may use to diagnose mitral valve disease. Some of these can include:

The treatment options for mitral valve disease can vary, depending on the type a person has. If a person is not displaying any symptoms, they may not require any treatment.

A doctor may suggest making healthy lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, following a healthy, low sodium diet, and making regular visits to a doctor. This may help prevent the onset of symptoms.

If a person does require treatment, some of the options available can include:

  • beta-blockers for symptoms, such as chest pain or an irregular heartbeat
  • diuretics for symptoms, such as breathlessness
  • blood thinners, such as warfarin, to prevent blood clots
  • a procedure called balloon angioplasty, for people who are not surgical candidates
  • surgery to replace the mitral valve with a mechanical, animal tissue, or donor valve

Further health complications of mitral valve disease can include:

  • heart dilation, which can occur when the walls of the heart become stretched and weak
  • an irregular heartbeat, which can lead to a stroke
  • heart failure
  • pulmonary hypertension

Read about the signs of a stroke.

A person may be born with heart problems that can lead to mitral valve disease or develop the condition later in life. However, there are several ways a person may be able to avoid mitral valve disease, including:

  • taking antibiotics to control episodes of rheumatic fever
  • limiting or avoiding caffeine and alcohol
  • quitting smoking
  • following a healthy, low sodium diet
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • attending regular health screenings

Mitral valve disease is a form of valvular heart disease that affects the mitral valve. The mitral valve is responsible for allowing the normal flow of blood from the left atrium to the left ventricle and preventing it from traveling backward.

Mitral stenosis and mitral regurgitation are the two main types of mitral valve disease.

A person may have mitral valve disease but not experience any symptoms. If a person is symptomatic, common symptoms can include dizziness, breathlessness, and fatigue.

A doctor may recommend healthy lifestyle changes, medications, such as beta-blockers, or heart surgery to repair or replace the mitral valve as forms of prevention and treatment for mitral valve disease.