Mitral regurgitation (also called mitral valve insufficiency) is a common condition affecting the mitral valve, which is the valve that regulates the flow of blood from the lungs back into the heart.
The mitral valve is composed of two leaflets which come together whenever the heart beats to prevent blood from leaking back to the lungs. Mitral regurgitation, or leakage of blood back across the mitral valve, occurs whenever those two leaflets do not close properly.
Causes of Mitral Regurgitation
Mitral regurgitation can be caused by an abnormality of the mitral valve, known as degenerative mitral valve disease. This is due to either the chords (string-like tethers that attach the mitral valve leaflets to the muscle of the heart) being too long or broken or abnormalities of the leaflet tissue.
Another cause is functional mitral regurgitation, or a weak heart muscle that's not strong enough to adequately close the valve. This often occurs because of heart injury from a heart attack.
Less common causes of mitral regurgitation include:
- Rheumatic heart disease
- Congenital birth defects of the heart
Are You at Risk?
High blood pressure can worsen an already leaking mitral valve. Mitral regurgitation can also be a progression of mitral valve prolapse.
You may be at risk if you experience these symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing, especially during exercise or when lying flat
- Awakening short of breath in the middle of the night
- Sensation of rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Cough with exertion or when lying flat
- Frequent respiratory infections
Diagnosing Mitral Regurgitation
Your doctor may discover mitral regurgitation by the following:
- Abnormal heart sounds, such as a heart murmur or click
- Signs of fluid in the lungs
Tests may include:
- Chest X-ray
- Cardiac catheterization
- Holter monitor
Mitral Regurgitation Treatment Options
You may not need immediate treatment if you have mild or moderate symptoms.
Medications alone are not effective for treating the underlying cause of mitral regurgitation. But they may be prescribed to treat specific symptoms, including:
- Medications that remove extra water from the lungs (diuretics)
- Medications that lower blood pressure
- Medications to control heart rhythm problems
Common types of surgery for mitral regurgitation include:
- Mitral valve replacement – This is the surgical replacement of a defective heart valve for those with severe symptoms.
- Mitral valve repair – Surgeons repair the valve using your own valve tissue.
Prevent Mitral Regurgitation
There are several things you can do to try to avoid some of the complications of mitral regurgitation:
- Get regular medical care.
- Control episodes of rheumatic fever with antibiotics
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and drugs that increase your heart rate.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Decrease your salt intake.
- Monitor your blood pressure.
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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.