Mitral Valve Disorders
There are two ways that the mitral valve can malfunction. The most common is a leaky mitral valve, known as mitral valve regurgitation. In this case, the valve does not close properly, and blood flows backwards into the lungs when the heart muscle squeezes. Blood flowing backwards into the lungs can cause shortness of breath (first with exertion but later at rest). With time, the heart muscle will grow weaker, leading to congestive heart failure.
The most common cause of a leaky mitral valve is degenerative mitral valve disease. The hallmarks of degenerative mitral valve disease (also known as "floppy valve syndrome") include weakness and redundancy of the leaflets and their supporting structures.
Other causes of a leaky valve include infection (endocarditis) of the mitral valve, congenital abnormalities of the mitral valve, and a weakened and dilated heart muscle (usually from previous heart attacks) that causes the two mitral leaflets to be pulled apart.
Less commonly the mitral valve will not open properly (mitral valve stenosis) and the tight valve will prevent blood from flowing from the lungs into the ventricle. Mitral valve stenosis (narrowing of the mitral valve) is always caused by rheumatic fever, an attack on the valve leaflets by the immune system after certain infections. As a result of the immune attack, the leaflets become thickened, stiff, and do not open properly.
Surgery is generally recommended when a malfunctioning mitral valve causes symptoms (usually shortness of breath), or when the abnormal valve starts to cause weakness of the heart muscle.
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This page was last updated: March 11, 2013