Mitral Valve Prolapse Overview
Mitral valve prolapse (MVP) is a heart condition that affects approximately two percent of the population. Though this may seem like a low percentage, the truth is that millions of people live with the symptoms of mitral valve prolapse—sometimes without even knowing it. If you or somebody you know has been diagnosed with this condition, you might be looking for guidance on the next steps to take. Read on to learn more about mitral valve prolapse, including its symptoms, the outlook, and my personal experiences in living with this syndrome.
What Is Mitral Valve Prolapse?
Each time the heart pumps, the mitral valve is supposed to move blood into a new chamber before closing tightly to block old blood from reentering the place where it came from. But for people with mitral valve prolapse, this does not happen.
Mitral valve prolapse describes what happens when the two valve flaps don’t quite close all the way whenever your heart takes a beat. Therefore, there is a greater chance for some of the blood to “leak” or travel in the wrong direction.
This can lead to a heart murmur, which affects the natural heart rhythm. You might also hear mitral valve prolapse referred to as click murmur syndrome as a result of its characteristic appearance and sound.
Typically, mitral valve prolapse is diagnosed through imaging of the heart. Echocardiograms use sound waves to develop a picture of the heart muscle. Specialists called cardiologists then look at those images to determine if all the components of your heart are working properly.
In situations where mitral valve prolapse is detected on the images, your doctor might recommend having an annual echocardiogram to monitor the heart or recommend different types of treatments, depending on your symptoms.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Mitral Valve Prolapse?
According to the American Heart Association, a large percent of people with mitral valve prolapse don’t even know that they have it because they experience no symptoms. Sometimes, comorbidities, like other heart conditions, can make the signs and symptoms of MVP more noticable.
When you do have symptoms of mitral valve prolapse, they often include:
- Shortness of breath
- Mild chest pain
- And coughing.
If you do have any of these symptoms and you know that mitral valve prolapse runs in your family (or you have a history of connective tissue disorders), consider seeing a specialist to be sure that you are doing everything you can do to protect your heart.
I was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse when I was thirteen years old. I was fortunate to have a knowledgeable pediatric cardiologist who saw on my chart that I also had Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and immediately scheduled me for an echocardiogram and EKG.
Is This Life-Threatening?
More often than not, MVP is simply something to monitor with your health care team. Depending on the severity of your heart’s murmur as well as any symptoms you are experiencing, you might need medications, like a beta-blocker, to manage discomfort. In severe cases, you could need surgery to repair or replace the faulty valves.
Though it is rare, mitral valve prolapse can lead to more serious complications. The severity of mitral regurgitation, or the amount of blood that leaks each time the heart contracts, truly determines your own outlook with MVP.
People who have MVP in addition to atrial fibrillation, also known as an arrhythmia, can sometimes experience more severe palpitations. Furthermore, if the mitral regurgitation is very severe and goes untreated, it could lead to a heart attack or even heart failure.
Typically, mitral valve prolapse is manageable, but it is still very important to get your heart checked by your primary care physician or by a cardiologist, especially if you are finding MVP to be uncomfortable or notice any worsening symptoms.
What Should You Know About Life with MVP?
I was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse when I was thirteen years old. I was fortunate to have a knowledgeable pediatric cardiologist who saw on my chart that I also had Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and immediately scheduled me for an echocardiogram and EKG. Though the tests ruled out the vascular type of EDS, they did show that I had what my doctor called a “jumpy heart.”
I remember the scratch of the paper gown during the echocardiogram. The gel, luckily, was warm as the technician slid the imaging tool across my ribs. My mom and I watched as the technician clicked on the screen, took measurements, switched between the sight of my heart and the sound. We knew something wasn’t quite right when she said she needed to check with the doctor about one of the images.
Later, back in my sweatshirt and jeans, the doctor used those words for the first time—“jumpy heart.” The official diagnosis: mitral valve prolapse. For a few years after this, I was on medication to help control the heart palpitations as well as medicine to raise my blood pressure. Turns out I also have postural-orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), which plays off of MVP at times. A jump here, a skip there.
In my case, the condition is relatively mild. I get heart palpitations, loud thuds in my chest. Sometimes my heart flutters so quickly that I think it’s trying to escape to somewhere outside of my body. But all of this is to say that for me, I’m just a little extra aware of this jumpy heart.
For some people, there is a lot more involved in this condition. Let me first acknowledge that I know just how scary it can be to watch your heart flop around on that screen, to feel it pound in your chest or forget to beat for a millisecond. One of the most important things that you can do to help yourself find comfort with your heart is to have a trusted medical professional by your side.
No matter the severity of your mitral valve prolapse, you need the support of a specialist who will offer you multiple options for treatment—from different exercises all the way up to surgery. That way, you will be able to find a treatment path that is right for your specific needs.
Now, I know it’s extremely cliche to say this, but in our case it’s true: Follow your heart. Listen to the rhythm, the sounds. Be mindful of how it feels when you go about your day. It might just be leading you to a healthier future.
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