The mitral valve helps blood on the left side of the heart flow in one direction. It closes to keep blood from moving backwards when the heart beats (contracts).
Mitral valve prolapse is the term used when the valve does not close properly. It can be caused by many different things.
In most cases, it is harmless. The problem generally does not affect health and most people with the condition are not aware of it. In a small number of cases, the prolapse can cause blood to leak backwards. This is called mitral regurgitation.
Mitral valve prolapse often affects thin women who may have minor chest wall deformities, scoliosis, or other disorders. Some forms of mitral valve prolapse seem to be passed down through families (inherited).
Mitral valve prolapse is also seen with some connective tissue disorders such as Marfan syndrome and other rare genetic disorders.
Many patients with mitral valve prolapse do not have symptoms. The group of symptoms found in patients with mitral valve prolapse is called "mitral valve prolapse syndrome," and includes:
Chest pain (not caused by coronary artery disease or a heart attack)
Sensation of feeling the heart beat (palpitations)
Shortness of breath with activity or when lying flat (orthopnea)
When mitral regurgitation occurs, symptoms may be related to this leaking.
Exams and Tests
The doctor will perform a physical exam and use a stethoscope to listen to your heart and lungs. The doctor may feel a thrill (vibration) over the heart, and hear a heart murmur ("midsystolic click"). The murmur gets longer and louder when you stand up.
Blood pressure is most often normal.
Echocardiogram is the most common test used to diagnose mitral valve prolapse. The following tests may also be used to diagnose mitral valve prolapse or a leaky mitral valve:
CT scan of the chest
ECG (may show arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation)
MRI of the heart
Most of the time, there are few or no symptoms and treatment is not needed.
In the past, most people with heart valve problems were given antibiotics before dental work or procedures such as colonoscopy to prevent an infection in the heart. However, antibiotics are now used much less often. Check with your health care provider to see if you need antibiotics.
There are many heart medicines that may be used to control this condition. You may need surgery to repair or replace your mitral valve if it becomes leaky (regurgitation). However, this is not common. You may need mitral valve repair or replacement if:
Your symptoms get worse
The left ventricle of your heart is enlarged
Your heart function gets worse
Most of the time, mitral valve prolapse is harmless and does not cause symptoms. Symptoms that do occur can be treated and controlled with medicine or surgery.
Some abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias) in people with mitral valve prolapse can be life threatening. If the valve leakage becomes severe, your outlook may be similar to that of people who have mitral regurgitation from any other cause.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have:
Chest discomfort, palpitations, or fainting spells that get worse
Long-term illnesses with fevers
Nishimura. RA, Otto CM, Bownow RO et al. 2014 AHA/ACC Guideline for the Management of Patients With Valvular Heart Disease: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2014;148(1):e1-e132.
Otto CM, Bonow RO. Valvular heart disease. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. St. Louis, MO: WB Saunders; 2011:chap 66.
Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.