Mitral valve stenosis, also called mitral stenosis, is a valvular heart condition. The condition affects the mitral valve of the heart. Generally, the primary function of the valve is to open and allow blood to flow between the left sided chambers of the heart. In individuals with mitral valve stenosis, the valve is abnormally narrow and fails to open properly. This abnormality can cause blood flow to be restricted in the entire body, which can initiate a variety of serious situations.
It is possible to be born with a mitral valve that is more narrow than normal. When this happens, the condition is a congenital defect. As a child with a narrowed mitral valve ages, the valve may become more narrow. Children with this type of birth defect may develop mitral valve stenosis early or later in life. In many cases, a baby with a particularly narrow valve may have surgery early on to avoid the complications that can be caused by this condition.
One of the most general causes of mitral valve stenosis in adults is rheumatic fever. Categorized as an inflammatory disease, rheumatic fever commonly develops following a bout with strep throat. The illness can significantly damage the heart and in particular the mitral valve. In many cases it can cause thickening or scarring in the valve which can prevent it from adequately opening. People commonly have rheumatic fever in childhood, however, heart damage done by the illness may not be discovered until several years or decades later.
Sometimes, deposits of calcium can line the mitral valve and cause this condition. In addition, mitral valve stenosis may also be caused by an abnormal growth in the valve such as a tumor, although this cause is not a particularly common one. Blood clots, however, can further cause a narrowing of the valve.
Shortness of breath is a primary mitral valve stenosis symptom. The narrowing of the mitral valve may cause blood to flow in a reverse motion. This can cause blood to enter the lungs which can not only cause breathing difficulties, but a chronic cough in which the individual may cough up blood. Other well-known symptoms may include swelling in the lower extremities, fatigue and heart palpitations. Young children and babies with this condition may experience many of these same symptoms and may grow at a slower rate as well.
Cardiovascular tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG), cardiac catheterization and echocardiogram may be used to diagnose this condition. Treatment may involve medications such as anticoagulants to prevent blood clots and diuretics to prevent fluid accumulation. Patients with a rheumatic fever-induced case of this condition may also be treated with antibiotics. Furthermore, varying mitral valve surgeries may be done to repair the malfunctioning valve or to replace it.