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Mitral valve prolapse

The mitral valve, or bicuspid valve, separates chambers of the heart and helps control the flow of blood through the heart. With mitral valve prolapse, one or both of the mitral valve leaflets (flaps) don't close properly.

Mitral valve prolapse (MVP) is a common cause of a heart murmur.

In most cases, mitral valve prolapse is not serious and will only need to be monitored rather than treated.

Mitral valve prolapse is associated with many other symptoms and conditions, such as Marfan syndrome.

What is mitral valve prolapse?

The mitral valve is a valve that lets blood flow from one chamber of the heart to another. In mitral valve prolapse part of the mitral valve slips backward loosely into the chamber called the left atrium.

Mitral Valve

This happens when the main heart muscle, called the left ventricle, squeezes during each heartbeat. Mitral valve prolapse differs from mitral valve stenosis. In mitral valve stenosis, the mitral valve is stiff and narrowed.

In mitral valve prolapse the valve leaflet, or flap, slips backward due to damage in the valve tissues. For most people with mitral valve prolapse, the cause is unknown.

Mitral valve prolapse can run in families. It can also be caused by conditions in which cartilage is abnormal (connective tissue disease). Between one to three in every 100 people have mitral valve prolapse.

Symptoms of mitral valve prolapse

Most people with mitral valve prolapse have no symptoms. They also never experience any health problems due to mitral valve prolapse.

Chest pain is the most frequent symptom in people who have symptoms with mitral valve prolapse.

Mitral valve prolapse is the most common cause of mitral regurgitation. That's a condition in which some blood flows backward through the mitral valve with each heartbeat. Over years, moderate or severe mitral regurgitation can cause weakness of the heart muscle, known as congestive heart failure. Symptoms of congestive heart failure include:

  • Shortness of breath with exertion
  • Swelling in the legs and feet

Mitral valve prolapse has also been associated with other symptoms:

  • Fluttering or rapid heartbeat called palpitations
  • Shortness of breath, especially with exercise
  • Dizziness
  • Passing out or fainting, known as syncope
  • Panic and anxiety
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet

When these symptoms occur together, they are sometimes called mitral valve prolapse syndrome. However, experts don't know if mitral valve prolapse itself causes these symptoms. Since these symptoms and mitral valve prolapse are so common, they could often occur together by chance.

Diagnosis of mitral valve prolapse

A doctor may suspect mitral valve prolapse after listening to someone's heart with a stethoscope. The abnormal movement of the mitral valve can make a distinct sound, called a "click." If mitral regurgitation is also present, a doctor may hear a heart murmur caused by the backward flow of blood.

Definite diagnosis of mitral valve prolapse requires an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart. A doctor can watch the abnormal valve movement on a video of the beating heart. Mitral regurgitation, if present, will also be seen with an echocardiogram.

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