What Is Mitral Valve Prolapse?
In mitral valve prolapse (MVP), also called Barlow’s syndrome, the flaps of the mitral valve do not close correctly. Instead, the valve bulges into the atrium. This can lead to mitral valve regurgitation, which means that blood leaks back into the left atrium through the prolapsed valve.
Only about three percent of Americans have mitral valve prolapse, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and among these cases, serious complications are uncommon. (NHLBI) Most of the time, people with MVP do not have any symptoms, and it does not affect their daily lives.
What Are Risk Factors for Mitral Valve Prolapse?
Experts do not know exactly what causes MVP. Most people are born with abnormalities that cause the condition. These may include mitral valve flaps that are too big, thick, or stretchy. (NHLBI)
The Mayo Clinic reports that MVP is most commonly found in men over age 50. (Mayo) It is also found more often in people born with disorders of the connective tissue (collagen, ligaments, tendons, etc.).
MVP often runs in families, so you may be more likely to have it if your parents or other relatives do.
Certain conditions may lead to mitral valve prolapse. These include:
- scoliosis–curvature of the spine
- adult polycystic kidney disease–a genetic condition in which large cysts interfere with kidney function
- Connective tissue problems such as Marfan’s syndrome–a genetic condition that affects the connective tissue of the skeletal and cardiovascular systems, eyes, and skin
How Is Mitral Valve Prolapse Treated?
In most cases, you won’t need any treatment for mitral valve prolapse. However, if you have noticeable symptoms, your doctor might choose to treat your condition.
Treatment often involves taking medications to help relieve any symptoms you’re experiencing. Possible medications your doctor might prescribe include:
- aspirin–to reduce the risk of blood clots
- beta blockers–to prevent your heart from beating irregularly and to improve blood flow
- blood thinners–to prevent blood clots
- diuretics–to remove excess fluid from the lungs
- vasodilators–to widen the blood vessels and improve blood flow
If your condition is more serious, such as if you have severe regurgitation or impaired heart function, you may need surgery. There are two basic types of surgery for this issue: valve replacement and valve repair. Your doctor will generally opt to repair the valve if possible.
If repairing the valve isn’t possible, it may be replaced with either a man-made mechanical valve or a biological valve harvested from a cow or pig or created from human tissue. There are pros and cons to both kinds of valves, so your doctor will discuss your options with you before the procedure.