Problem: Mitral Valve Regurgitation

Valve Regurgitation: When a Heart Valve Leaks

What's mitral valve regurgitation?

Regurgitation animation

Mitral regurgitation is leakage of blood backward through the mitral valve each time the left ventricle contracts.

Watch an animation of mitral valve regurgitation.

A leaking mitral valve allows blood to flow in two directions during the contraction. Some blood flows from the ventricle through the aortic valve — as it should — and some blood flows back into the atrium.

What's the problem that results from mitral regurgitation?

Leakage can increase blood volume and pressure in the left atrium. The increased pressure can increase pressure in the veins leading from the lungs to the heart (pulmonary veins).

If regurgitation is severe, increased pressure may result in congestion (or fluid build-up) in the lungs.

What are the symptoms of mitral valve regurgitation? 

Mild mitral regurgitation may not have any symptoms.

When regurgitation is more severe, a person may have palpitations, often due to atrial fibrillation.

If regurgitation is severe enough, the heart may enlarge to maintain forward flow of blood, causing heart failure (when the heart does not pump enough blood to the body). This may produce symptoms ranging from shortness of breath during exertion, coughing, congestion around the heart and lungs and swelling of the legs and feet (edema).

What conditions may be related to mitral regurgitation?

The left atrium tends to enlarge due to the extra blood volume leaking back from the ventricle. An enlarged atrium may develop a rapid and disorganized movement (atrial fibrillation), which reduces the heart’s ability to pump efficiently.

A fibrillating atrium quivers and doesn’t pump efficiently, which increases the risk for blood clots that may cause a stroke.

Another potential complication of mitral regurgitation is pulmonary hypertension.

Treatment for mild mitral regurgitation may include anticoagulation medication. However, surgery to repair or replace is often needed.

Jim shares his story

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