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What is Mitral Valve Regurgitation?

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  • Written By: Debra Durkee
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 05 August 2018
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Mitral valve regurgitation is a condition that occurs when one of the heart valves is damaged and begins to let blood leak backward into the heart. This may or may not be a serious condition, based on the severity of the leak. Small leaks do not typically impact a person's health, but large leaks make the heart work harder and can put such a strain on the cardiac system that it can eventually lead to heart failure.

When functioning correctly, the valves of the heart seal tightly and act as a one-way barrier to keep blood flowing in the right direction through the circulatory system. The mitral valve connects the two left chambers of the heart, and opens when the left atrium contracts and pushes blood into the left ventricle. With the development of mitral valve regurgitation, some of the blood that should be passed into the ventricle leaks back into the atrium, making the heart work harder to pump the same blood through again.

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There are a number of causes for mitral valve regurgitation. A heart attack can damage the area around the mitral valve, and high blood pressure can put a strain on the valve and its supporting tissues. Damage to the tissues can also occur simply because of age or wear and tear. Endocarditis is an infection of the heart that can damage the valve, and those who have had rheumatic fever can also be susceptible to a thickening or scarring of the mitral valve that causes mitral valve regurgitation. Mitral valve prolapse is a related condition in which the cords and tissues that are attached to the mitral valve weaken, which may result in a gap in the valve.

Symptoms can seem unrelated to heart problems, and can include lightheadedness, coughing, swollen feet or ankles, and excessive urination. Other symptoms can include heart palpitations or a heart murmur, and shortness of breath when physically active or lying down. Since mitral valve regurgitation progresses slowly, some individuals may not even recognize the symptoms as indicators that anything is wrong. Many find it is not diagnosed until a routine checkup with a healthcare professional listening to the heart.

While some individuals will not develop a condition severe enough to impact their daily life, others may experience serious complications, including heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, endocarditis, or atrial fibrillation, also known as an irregular heartbeat. Depending on the severity of the condition, it can be treated with medications to help heighten the efficiency of the heart, control the heartbeat, or help reduce blood clots. Sometimes, the valve can be repaired with surgery if signs of heart failure begin to develop.

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