Mitral insufficiency — or mitral regurgitation, as it is sometimes called — is a heart defect that causes blood to backflow from the left ventricle into the left atrium of the heart. This causes a lack of blood flow to the rest of the body and results in the heart having to pump harder. In some cases, mitral insufficiency can be caused by a birth defect. It can also be caused by damage from a heart attack, or from endocarditis, a disease that affects the heart. In these instances, the mitral valve ruptures, causing a leak that results in mitral regurgitation.
Symptoms of a mitral valve leak may appear suddenly, particularly if the patient has suffered a heart attack or an infection of the mitral valve. In the case of a mitral valve birth defect, the patient may experience problems that worsen over time. One common symptom is orthopnea, a shortness of breath that worsens when the patient lies down. Palpitations — a sensation of being able to feel your heart beat — also may occur, and the frequency may increase as the condition worsens. Other symptoms include a cough, rapid breathing and sudden chest pain unrelated to any other heart conditions, such as a heart attack or chronic angina.
To determine if a patient is suffering from mitral insufficiency or a mitral valve prolapse, a physician will order a specific series of tests. These tests include a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the chest or a computed axial tomography (CT or CAT) scan. An echocardiogram (ECG or EKG) may also be ordered to determine how fast the heart is beating and if there are any irregularities. In severe cases, a physician may order a transesophageal ECG or a cardiac catheterization.
Mitral insufficiency may lead to cardiac arrest. Other possible complications include a stroke, plumonary edema, or an infection of the mitral valve. Mitral insufficiency can lead to death; it is a serious condition and should be treated immediately. Surgery is usually required to close the mitral leak though, in very mild cases, prescriptions may be effective in controlling the condition.
If the valve of the heart is severely damaged, it may be necessary to replace the valve entirely. If the condition is caught early and the damage to the mitral valve is slight or repairable, the prognosis for patients is good. If this condition is not treated, it can be fatal.