Nobody wants to hear he or she has a heart problem. Fortunately, not every diagnosis calls for a huge lifestyle change or a lifetime of medication. Contrary to popular belief, the condition called mitral valve prolapse (MVP) poses little or no risk for most patients and requires little treatment.
The mitral valve is a two-flapped heart valve between the left atrium and the left ventricle. It works like a gate that opens when the heart contracts to let blood enter the left ventricle, and it closes before the blood can flow backward into the left atrium. In people with MVP, the gate doors don’t shut completely because they are uneven in size or because the fibers that control them have been stretched. This causes part of the valve to bulge, or prolapse, into the left atrium, creating a clicking noise.
In cases where a small amount of blood is allowed back into the left atrium (called regurgitation), a heart murmur develops. Other names for MVP are “click-murmur syndrome” or “floppy” mitral valve.
Most people with MVP will have no additional health conditions. The only time risk is present is if the mitral valve allows a lot of regurgitation. People with MVP are no longer advised to take preventive antibiotics before going to the dentist or undergoing minor surgery unless they have a history of endocarditis, an infection of the heart valves or inner lining.
MVP affects just 2 percent of the population, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Originally, doctors thought the number was much higher because detection methods weren’t as exact as they are now. If you were diagnosed with MVP more than 10 years ago, you may want to ask your doctor for a confirmation.
Most people who have MVP experience no symptoms. Some people get symptoms only during stressful times like during pregnancy. Often, a routine doctor’s visit uncovers the condition. Symptoms include:
- fatigue or weakness
- chest pains
- feeling that your heart skips a beat
- intermittent fast beating
A doctor will suspect MVP if he or she hears a clicking sound while the heart is contracting. This is the sound of the abnormal valve resisting the pressure of the left ventricle. An echocardiogram will confirm the diagnosis and determine the level of severity and degree of regurgitation.
Only people with severe regurgitation or who are at high risk for complications are instructed to avoid high-resistance activities like weight-lifting. All other MVP patients can lead active, normal lives. If you have MVP, ask your doctor if you should avoid or restrict certain activities.