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Mitral valve regurgitation means that one of the valves in your heart—the mitral valve—is letting blood leak backward into the upper area of the heart.
Heart valves work like one-way gates, helping blood flow in one direction between heart chambers or in and out of the heart. The mitral valve is on the left side of your heart. It lets blood flow from the upper to the lower heart chamber.
See a picture of mitral valve regurgitation.
When the mitral valve is damaged—for example, by an infection—it may no longer close tightly. This lets blood leak backward, or regurgitate, into the upper chamber. Your heart has to work harder to pump this extra blood.
Small leaks are usually not a problem. But more severe cases weaken the heart over time and can lead to heart failure.
There are two forms of mitral valve regurgitation: chronic and acute.
Symptoms of mitral valve regurgitation include being tired or short of breath when you are active.
If your heart weakens because of your mitral valve, you may start to have symptoms of heart failure. Call your doctor if you start to have symptoms or if your symptoms change. Symptoms include:
Acute mitral valve regurgitation is an emergency. Symptoms come on rapidly. Symptoms include severe shortness of breath, fast heart rate, lightheadedness, weakness, confusion, and chest pain.
Because you may not have symptoms, a specific type of heart murmur may be the first sign your doctor notices. Further tests will be needed to check your heart. Tests may include:
Finding out that something is wrong with your heart is scary. You may feel depressed and worried. This is a common reaction. Sometimes it helps to talk to others who have similar problems. Ask your doctor about support groups in your area.
Treatment for chronic cases includes regular tests to check how well the valve and the heart are working. You may take medicines to treat complications. You may take medicine to treat a heart problem that is causing the regurgitation.
You may need to have the mitral valve repaired or replaced. Your doctor will check many things to see if surgery is right for you. These things include the cause of the regurgitation, the anatomy of the valve, if you have symptoms, and how well your heart is pumping blood.
If you have chronic mitral valve regurgitation, your doctor may want you to make some lifestyle changes to help keep your heart healthy. He or she may advise you to:
Treatment for acute mitral valve regurgitation occurs while you are in the hospital or the emergency room. You need surgery right away to repair or replace the valve.
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Learning about mitral valve regurgitation:
Living with mitral valve regurgitation:
There are two forms of mitral valve regurgitation (MR): chronic and acute. Chronic mitral valve regurgitation develops slowly over several years. Acute MR develops suddenly.
There are two types of chronic mitral valve regurgitation: primary and secondary.
Primary means there is a problem with the anatomy of the valve. The valve does not work well and does not close tightly.
Primary regurgitation can be caused by:
Secondary means another heart problem is causing the valve to not close tightly. The anatomy of the valve is typically normal. The heart problem affects the heart muscle, and this causes regurgitation.
Secondary regurgitation can be caused by heart problems that affect the left ventricle. These problems include:
Acute mitral valve regurgitation occurs when the mitral valve or one of its supporting structures ruptures suddenly, creating an immediate overload of blood volume and pressure in the left side of the heart. Your heart doesn't have time to adjust to the increased volume and pressure of blood (as it does in chronic MR).
Causes of sudden rupture include:
Symptoms of chronic mitral valve regurgitation (MR) may take decades to appear. With acute MR, symptoms come on suddenly, and you are critically ill.
Call your doctor right away if you have new or different symptoms. These include:
Primary MR. If you have mild-to-moderate primary MR, you may not have symptoms. If you have severe disease, you may have symptoms when you are active. Symptoms include:
Secondary MR. If you have secondary MR, you likely have symptoms of the heart problem that has led to the regurgitation. You may have symptoms of heart failure or coronary artery disease.
Acute mitral valve regurgitation is an emergency. Symptoms of acute mitral valve regurgitation appear suddenly. Most people who develop acute MR are already in the hospital or emergency room because of another heart problem. Symptoms include severe shortness of breath, fast heart rate, lightheadedness, weakness, confusion, and chest pain.
Risk factors for mitral valve regurgitation (MR) include:
Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you or a person you are with has:
Call a doctor immediately if you have:
If you are coughing up blood, call a doctor immediately.
Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. If you do not have symptoms of MR, your doctor will still want to see you for regular checkups. Your doctor will want to see you as soon as you have symptoms for the first time. If your doctor has talked with you about what to do if you have symptoms, follow your doctor's instructions. Contact your doctor if your symptoms get worse.
Health professionals who can evaluate symptoms that may be related to mitral valve regurgitation include:
They frequently can also order the tests needed for further evaluation of symptoms.
Chronic mitral valve regurgitation (MR) can be difficult to diagnose. It is a "quiet" condition and often has no symptoms, or your symptoms may be confused with other heart-related conditions.
Chronic MR is often diagnosed during a routine checkup or a visit to the doctor for another condition. A heart murmur may be the first sign leading your doctor to the diagnosis, especially if you have no other symptoms.
Acute MR causes sudden symptoms and is much less common than chronic mitral valve regurgitation. It is usually diagnosed while you are already hospitalized or in the emergency room.
When your doctor suspects you have MR, he or she will discuss your medical history, do a physical exam, and likely order tests to check your heart. Your doctor uses the information to find out how severe your MR is. For more information, see Mitral Valve Regurgitation: Severity.
To find out the severity of your MR, your doctor will ask you to describe the symptoms you are experiencing, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, or chest pain.
During the physical exam, the doctor will take your blood pressure, check your pulse, listen to your heart and lungs, look at the veins in your neck (jugular veins), and check your legs and feet for fluid buildup (edema).
Echocardiogram (sometimes called an echo or echocardiography) is a type of ultrasound exam. It helps your doctor find out how severe your MR is. Also, echocardiography can help determine whether the heart's main pumping chamber (left ventricle) is functioning properly, whether any structural problems exist that may affect the mitral valve, and whether the chambers of the heart are enlarged.
An electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) is a test that measures the electrical signals that control the rhythm of your heartbeat.
Although the EKG may reveal abnormal electrical activity in the heart, further testing is often still needed to find out the severity of MR and to confirm whether MR is causing enlargement of the left ventricle. The result of an EKG is often normal in people who have mild MR.
A chest X-ray may be done to evaluate heart size and to assess symptoms of MR, such as shortness of breath. Calcium deposits on the heart valves may sometimes be seen on a chest X-ray.
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test may be done to see how well the heart is pumping blood and to check how severe the MR is.
Cardiac catheterization may be done to confirm the severity of mitral valve leakage seen on an echocardiogram.
How often you see your doctor and what tests are done will be determined by how severe your chronic mitral valve regurgitation is.
Severity of mitral regurgitation
How often you should have an echocardiogram
Every 3 to 5 years
Every 1 to 2 years
At least every 6 to 12 months
Treatment for chronic mitral valve regurgitation (MR) includes monitoring your heart function and symptoms. It may include treating symptoms as they develop. If another heart problem has caused the regurgitation, you will get treatment for that heart problem. If MR becomes severe, the mitral valve may need to be repaired or replaced.
Treatment for acute MR is immediate. Medicines and urgent surgery are usually needed.
Treatment depends on whether you have primary MR or secondary MR. It also depends on if you have symptoms or complications and how severe the regurgitation is.
Monitoring. If you don't have symptoms and you only have mild-to-moderate regurgitation, your doctor may only monitor your heart and valve function with an echocardiogram. You will see your doctor regularly. How often you get this test depends on the severity of regurgitation. For more information, see Exams and Tests.
Medicine. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to treat complications or treat the heart problem that caused the mitral regurgitation. For more information, see Medications.
Valve replacement or repair. Surgery may be done to replace the mitral valve. Surgery or a procedure may be done to repair the mitral valve. For more information, see Surgery.
Initial treatment for acute MR includes medicines as needed to stabilize your condition. If medicines don't help, an intra-aortic balloon pump may be used for a short time to help circulate blood and ease the workload on your heart. Surgery may be done immediately to replace or repair the valve.
Chronic primary mitral valve regurgitation (MR) develops slowly. And most people go years without having any symptoms. Before symptoms start, your condition may not be serious and you generally feel good. But even during this time, MR is doing irreversible damage to your heart. Because of this ongoing damage, your doctor may suggest a valve repair or replacement before you start having symptoms. Although it may be difficult to think about a surgery or procedure when you feel well, not having the valve repaired or replaced could lead to heart failure.
You will begin to have symptoms of chronic MR when your heart begins to weaken. A variety of medicines are available to treat your symptoms as MR progresses and to prevent complications.
People with mitral valve regurgitation sometimes develop serious complications including:
Medicines do not prevent or correct the damage to the heart caused by mitral valve regurgitation (MR). For chronic regurgitation, they might be used to treat complications of mitral regurgitation. They might be used to help treat the heart problem that has caused secondary MR. In acute regurgitation, medicine is used as emergency treatment before surgery.
In chronic MR, you may take medicine if you have symptoms and a low ejection fraction. You may take medicine to treat heart failure.
Antibiotics. If you have an artificial valve, you may need to take antibiotics before you have certain dental or surgical procedures. The antibiotics help prevent an infection in your heart called endocarditis. You will likely take antibiotics after surgery to repair or replace a valve. If you have had rheumatic fever, you may take antibiotics to avoid getting it again.
Blood thinners. Blood thinners prevent blood clots after surgery. Blood thinners include antiplatelet medicine, such as aspirin, or anticoagulant medicine. If you have an artificial heart valve, you may need to take this medicine for the rest of your life.
In acute MR, medicines are used in the hospital to stabilize your condition until you can have surgery to replace or repair the valve.
Medicines are used to prevent or treat complications of mitral regurgitation such as atrial fibrillation or heart failure. For more information, see the topics:
With chronicmitral valve regurgitation (MR), a mitral valve repair or replacement might be recommended. Surgery may be done to replace the mitral valve. Surgery or a procedure may be done to repair the mitral valve. Whether surgery is right for you depends on many things including the cause of MR.
With acute MR, urgent surgery to repair or replace the valve is usually needed. In some cases, surgery to correct the cause of acute MR may also be needed.
Primary MR. Valve repair or replacement is the only cure for primary MR, because the abnormal shape of the mitral valve is causing the regurgitation.
Your doctor will check many things to see if surgery is right for you. Your doctor may check to see if:
Repair is typically preferred over replacement. The decision between repairing or replacing the valve depends on the type of damage you have. For more information, see the topic Mitral Valve Regurgitation: Repair or Replace the Valve.
Secondary MR. Valve repair or replacement cannot cure secondary MR, because another heart problem is causing the mitral valve to not close properly. Treatment of the heart problem, such as heart failure, may be the right treatment for you. Some people might benefit from a repair or replacement of the mitral valve.
Your doctor will check many things to see if surgery is right for you. Your doctor may check to see if:
To repair the valve, the surgeon may:
With replacement, the badly damaged valve is removed and a mechanical (plastic or metal) or bioprosthetic valve (usually made from pig tissue) is sewn into place. Before you have valve replacement surgery, you and your doctor will decide on which type of valve is right for you.
For more information, see:
A transcatheter procedure is a new way to repair a mitral valve. It does not require open-heart surgery. It is a minimally invasive procedure. A doctor uses catheters in blood vessels to insert a device in the valve. The device helps keep blood from leaking backward. This may relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. This procedure is available in a small number of hospitals. And it is not right for everyone. It might be done for a person who can't have surgery or for a person who has a high risk of serious problems from surgery.footnote 2
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ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerRakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, ElectrophysiologyMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerMichael P. Pignone, MD, MPH, FACP - Internal Medicine
Current as ofFebruary 23, 2018
Current as of: February 23, 2018
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Michael P. Pignone, MD, MPH, FACP - Internal Medicine
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