The mitral valve performs an important role in your heart as it controls the flow of blood going in one direction from the lungs to the body. If the mitral valve, located between the heart's left upper chamber (left atrium) and the left lower chamber (left ventricle), does not close properly, or open completely, the heart may have to work twice as hard to do its job, which can lead to life-threatening heart conditions.
Normal mitral valve function
Types of Mitral Valve Disease
Millions of people in the U.S. are diagnosed with mitral valve disease every year. Mitral valve disease can be characterized by mitral valve stenosis and mitral valve regurgitation.
- Mitral valve stenosis occurs when the flaps or leaflets of the valve thicken, stiffen or fuse together. This results in a narrowing of the valve and prevents the valve from fully opening, restricting the blood flow through the valve. The main cause of mitral valve stenosis is rheumatic fever, which is more common in developing coutries but is still seen in the United States. Mitral valve stenosis can lead to serious heart complications if not treated.
- Mitral valve regurgitation, or backward flow of blood through the valve, occurs when the leaflets of the mitral valve don’t close tightly, allowing a portion of the blood to leak back into the heart’s left atrium rather than flowing forward. This is often caused by mitral valve prolapse. Mitral valve prolapse occurs when the leaflets of the mitral valve bulge (prolapse) into the heart's left atrium during the heart's contraction. When this occurs the leaflets are unable to create a tight seal and there is backward leakage, or regurgitation, of blood into the left atrium.
Symptoms of Mitral Valve Disease
The symptoms of mitral valve disease vary depending on the type of disease: stenosis or regurgitation. Early in the disease process, patients experience minimal or no symptoms at all. However, when symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Shortness of breath, especially when lying down or exercising
- Pain or tightness in the chest
- Irregular or fast heartbeat
Mitral valve disease can cause a variety of complications if left untreated. These include:
- Heart arrhythmias in the upper heart chambers (atrial fibrillation)
- High blood pressure that affects the blood vessels in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension)
- Blood clots
- Heart failure
- Enlarged heart
Diagnosing Mitral Valve Disease
The Frankel CVC team diagnoses mitral valve disease using the most advanced imaging and diagnostic procedures, including:
- Echocardiogram: Ultrasound waves produce images of the heart’s structure and function.
- Transesophageal echocardiogram: A scope passes down the patient's throat into the esophagus to provide a detailed view of the mitral valve from less than an inch away.
- X-ray: This produces images of the heart on computer or film by sending X-ray particles through the body.
- Cardiac catheterization: A long, thin tube inserted into the arm, upper thigh or neck is threaded up to the heart to provide an image of blood vessels to determine how well the heart is working.
Treating Mitral Valve Disease
Treatment options for mitral valve disease include:
- Medication therapy
- Open-heart surgery
- Minimally invasive procedures, including minimally invasive surgical procedures and minimally invasive transcatheter procedures
For more information about mitral valve repair, replacement, and treatment visit our Mitral Valve Repair and Treatment page.
To view a list of all guides, visit our Cardiovascular Patient Information Guides page or the cardiovascular section of the Michigan Medicine Care Guides website.
Make an Appointment
To make an appointment to discuss your need for mitral valve disease treatment, contact us toll-free at 888-287-1082 or email us at CVCCallCtr@med.umich.edu.