Mitral valve disease is a common heart problem. While you would probably expect classic heart-related symptoms like chest pains from this condition, mitral valve disease may have no symptoms at first, or very mild symptoms that you might dismiss as stress, a busy schedule, or a normal part of aging.
Mitral valve disease can limit quality of life and lead to serious complications, so it’s important to get treatment early. Find out about the types and symptoms of mitral valve disease, and how to talk with your doctor about your treatment options.
What Is Mitral Valve Disease?
Your mitral valve is one of four heart valves that open and close to allow for healthy blood flow. It links the upper left chamber of your heart (the left atrium) with the bottom left chamber (the left ventricle).
Your valve has two flaps, called leaflets, which need to open fully and close tightly to allow blood to flow properly.
With mitral valve disease, your valve may become narrow, or its leaflets may become weak or damaged. There are two types of mitral valve disease:
- Mitral valve stenosis, which happens when your mitral valve becomes narrow, or the leaflets become fused together
- Mitral valve regurgitation, also called mitral insufficiency, which happens when the leaflets cannot close properly and allow blood to leak backward
Mitral Valve Disease Symptoms
Some people with mitral valve disease may have no symptoms at first, but some warning signs can include:
- Fatigue, or feeling very tired
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations, or the sense of feeling your own heartbeat
- Cough (can be a dry cough or a cough with blood)
- Swelling in your feet and ankles
- Chest pain
Mitral valve disease will not improve on its own, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about any of these symptoms. Over time, mitral valve disease can lead to more serious complications, including:
- Heart failure, which happens when your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs
- An enlarged heart
- Atrial fibrillation, a type of heart rhythm problem that raises your risk for stroke
Who Gets Mitral Valve Disease?
Mitral valve disease can affect anyone, but it is more common in older people.
Mitral valve regurgitation is usually caused by a related condition called mitral valve prolapse, in which you have extra leaflet tissue. Over time, the leaflets can stretch or become larger, which allows them to leak. Other causes can include:
- Endocarditis, an infection in your heart chambers and valves
- Rheumatic fever, an inflammatory condition that can happen because of strep throat
- A previous heart attack
Mitral valve stenosis is usually caused by the buildup of calcium on your mitral valve. Other causes can include:
- Rheumatic fever or scarlet fever in childhood, which can cause the leaflets to thicken or fuse together
- Radiation to your chest during cancer treatment
- Congenital heart defects, or heart problems you’re born with
How Is it Treated?
Mitral valve disease is usually treated through surgery to repair or replace the damaged valve, which can be:
- Open heart, where a surgeon opens your chest to make the repair or replacement
- Minimally invasive, where a surgeon does not open your chest and instead uses a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to make the repair
Other treatments can include:
- For mitral regurgitation, the use of a device that safely clips the leaflets together
- For mitral stenosis, the use of a catheter and balloon to open up the fused leaflets
- Medications can also be used to treat the symptoms of heart failure or atrial fibrillation
Talking to My Doctor About Mitral Valve Disease
If you’re facing mitral valve repair or replacement, be sure to ask your doctor the following questions:
- What are all of my options for treatment?
- What are the pros and cons of each treatment type?
- If my valve needs to be replaced, do I need a mechanical valve or a tissue valve?
- How many of these procedures have you done before?
- What exactly will happen during my surgery?
- How long will I need to stay in the hospital?
- How soon can I get back to my regular activities?
- After my surgery, should I join a cardiac rehabilitation program?