A leaky mitral valve can have a tremendous impact on your health. The mitral valve is one of the four valves in the heart. The mitral valve lies between the left atrium and the left ventricle. The mitral valve is also known as the bicuspid valve because it contains two flaps that open and close allowing for proper blood flow. The mitral valve is susceptible to many different types of diseases. If the valve becomes inflamed, scarred, or weak, it will leak. A leaky mitral valve does not seal completely and causes what doctors call mitral valve regurgitation. Treatment is possible, and health can be restored.
The mitral valve operates by opening and closing. When blood flows into the left atrium, the valve does not open until that chamber is full. Once it is full, the valve opens allowing the blood to flow into the left ventricle. Once all the blood empties into the next chamber, it closes shut again to keep blood from flowing backwards into the atrium (which is known as regurgitation). When the mitral valve is diseased, it becomes leaky; therefore, some of the blood flows backwards. Mitral valve leakage may also be a result of mitral valve prolapse; meaning one of the flaps of the valve slips backwards. Blood leakage may not seem like a problem, but it does affect your health.
Blood Flow Problems
The body requires a certain amount of blood to survive. When you exercise, your heart rate increases because your body requires more blood and oxygen to sustain you. When your body cannot get the proper amount of blood and oxygen it needs, you will begin to have symptoms. Symptoms include lightheadedness, fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath. You may have difficulty exercising and doing the simple task can make you feel faint. Your blood pressure will start to increase and in more severe cases you will have fluid build-up in the lungs. It can eventually result in heart attack or stroke.
A leaky mitral valve can be a congenital issue, meaning you are born with it. Sometimes this disease runs in the family, which gives it genetic roots. If you notice most of your family members have experienced this issue, you may be dealing with something genetic. Age also plays a role in a leaky mitral valve. As you get older, you are susceptible to calcium build-up on the mitral valve. The flaps of the mitral valve may also begin to weaken. Both of these problems lead to a leaky mitral valve. Understanding the risk factors of a leaky mitral valve will give you a better understanding of your health.
Diagnosis of a leaky mitral valve may first start with your normal physical exam. If your physician notices an irregular heartbeat, they may send you for more testing. An echocardiogram is a primary way to diagnose a leaky mitral valve. This test is like an ultrasound of the heart. It allows the doctor to see what is going on and hear the abnormal heartbeat. Through this machine, the doctor can watch the mitral valve and will notice if there is regurgitation. If the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment is dependent upon the severity of your symptoms. If you do not have any symptoms at all, and you are doing fine, the doctor will continue to monitor the issue, but surgery is not required. If your symptoms are affecting your quality of life, surgery may be the method of choice for treatment.
Open heart surgery is not always required for a leaky mitral valve. In many cases, surgery is minimally invasive. Instead of the surgeon making a cut big enough for their hand to fit in, they can make a smaller cut that can fit other surgical instruments. The first method of surgery requires 1 to 4 small cuts in the chest. Surgical tools are placed in the cuts along with a camera, and surgery is sometimes done robotically. Another method of surgery includes a cut being made in the leg. A catheter is placed through the vessel of the leg. The catheter carries the necessary parts to fix the mitral valve. Once that part is in place, the catheter is removed. Mitral valve repair may require open heart surgery. If the valve has a hole in it, a patch may be sewn on the valve to fix the hole. If the flaps of the valve are misshapen, the surgeon will have to cut and rebuild the valves.
A leaky mitral valve is a common problem. It may be a result of many different things. No matter what the source of the problem is, it is important to receive treatment before it has a negative effect on your heart. If the leak is not fixed, the heart will work overtime to get the body the proper amount of blood. As with anything, the constant overwork will make the heart tired. In more severe cases, it will begin to fail. If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, see your physician. Do not ignore the symptoms. By fixing the problem now, you will make life better for you in the future.
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