Living with Mitral Valve Prolapse

Mitral Valve Prolapse is considered the most common cardiac condition in the U.S. Thought to be harmless in most diagnosed cases, some doctors don’t even tell their patients when they detect it in tests.

The mitral valve, which is located between the upper and lower chambers on the left side of the heart, has two “leaflets” that swing open and shut as blood travels between them. During Mitral Valve Prolapse, these leaflets prolapse (collapse) into the left atrium when the left ventricle contracts , similarly to an open parachute. In the rare cases of Mitral Valve Prolapse where patients experience symptoms, it can be terrifying and confusing. Doctors across the country are only recently beginning to acknowledge that Mitral Valve Prolapse can sometimes cause a related syndrome in patients. In extremely severe cases of Mitral Valve Prolapse, the mitral valve can actually regurgitate rather than prolapse, causing the patient to need emergency surgery to correct the problem.

However, most patients only exhibit non-threatening symptoms, such as: heart palpitations, chest pain (unrelated to coronary disease or a heart attack) , difficulty breathing after exertion, fatigue, coughing, and shortness of breath when lying flat. Every person with Mitral Valve Prolapse experiences their own symptoms in varying degrees.

Three years ago, I became suddenly so weak that I could not get out of bed or lift up my head. After a week of this, I was taken to the hospital, where I was believed to have had a heart attack. After ruling this out with tests, the cardiologist told me that I had a rare case of Mitral Valve Prolapse with related high blood pressure and a heart murmur. With a new prescription for blood pressure medication, I began to get relief from the weakness, constant headache, and shortness of breath I’d been experiencing. I still have problems with heart palpitations, insomnia, and frequent migraines. However, a magnesium supplement on top of my normal diet and exercise routine has significantly improved those symptoms as well.

For people who experience Mitral Valve Prolapse symptoms, including myself, the biggest hurdle to overcome has been the anxiety that comes with this condition. Though you may know that what you are going through is harmless, and you’re in no danger of a heart attack, the symptoms can cause you to fear sudden death. This is something that has to be worked through, hopefully with the help of a caring doctor. There is light at the end of this tunnel.

How is Mitral Valve Prolapse Diagnosed?

Mitral Valve Prolapse is usually diagnosed during a routine physical exam. MVP is referred to as the click-murmur sound because the doctor will hear a click and a murmur (abnormal blood flow through the valve) as the valve leaflets bow back into left atrium with each heartbeat. Other tests used to diagnose Mitral Valve Prolapse may include: Echinography, Cardiac Catheterization (cardiac cath or angiogram) , Radionuclide scans, and Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) .

How is Mitral Valve Prolapse Treated?

In most cases Mitral Valve Prolapse is treated with reassurance. A good cardiologist will let you know that your fears about the severity of your Mitral Valve Prolapse, and the symptoms you’re experiencing, are normal; That the condition itself will not cause you to have a heart attack or die in most cases. However, most people with Mitral Valve Prolapse need only endocarditis prevention and yearly follow-up appointments. In about 10 to 15 percent of people with Mitral Valve Prolapse, further treatment is needed. In this case, valve surgery will be performed to repair the mitral valve.

Risks Associated with Mitral Valve Prolapse

If you have MVP, you may be at risk for getting endocarditis, an infection that causes damage to the heart valves. If you have Mitral Valve Prolapse with leaflet thickening or regurgitation (leaking), you need to follow these guidelines:

Tell your doctors and dentist you have Mitral Valve Prolapse, or any other valve disease. You may want to carry a card with this information. Call your doctor if you have symptoms of an infection (sore throat, general body achiness, and fever). Colds and flus do not cause endocarditis. But, infections which may have the same symptoms do. So, to be safe, call your doctor.
Take good care of your teeth and gums to prevent infections. See your dentist for regular visits. Take antibiotics before you undergo any procedure that may cause bleeding. Check with your doctor about the type and amount of antibiotics you should take.

Regular follow-up visits

Your doctor will want to monitor the progress of your Mitral Valve Prolapse with regular appointments. They may be spaced once a year or more often, if your doctor feels you need to be followed more closely. Your appointment will include a medical exam. Diagnostic studies may be repeated at regular intervals.

If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with those described in this article, or have been diagnosed with Mitral Valve Prolapse but are not receiving treatment or reassurance about your symptoms, find someone who will listen. There are resources, on the internet and elsewhere, to help you find a doctor in your area who specializes in the treatment of valve diseases like Mitral Valve Prolapse. The most important thing you can do to combat the anxiety of having Mitral Valve Prolapse symptoms, is to become an active participant in your healthcare, and be proactive in dealing with your diagnosis.

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