The majority of people with mitral valve prolapse (MVP) aren’t affected by the condition because they don’t have any symptoms or significant mitral valve regurgitation. Among those who do have symptoms, heart palpitations (strong or rapid heartbeats) are reported most often.
Other symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, dizziness, fatigue (tiredness), anxiety, migraine headaches, and chest discomfort.
Symptoms can vary widely from one person to another. They tend to be mild but can worsen over time, mainly when there are complications of MVP.
Complications of MVP are rare, but when present, they’re most often due to regurgitation of blood through the valve. Mitral valve regurgitation is most common among men and people with high blood pressure. People with severe cases of mitral valve regurgitation may need valve surgery to prevent complications.
In mitral valve regurgitation, blood flows backward from the left ventricle into the left atrium. It can even back up from the atrium into the lungs, causing shortness of breath. The backward flow of blood puts a strain on the muscles of both the atrium and the ventricle. Over time, the strain can lead to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). Regurgitation also increases the risk of infective endocarditis, an infection of the lining of the valves.
Mitral valve regurgitation can cause arrhythmia, an abnormal rate or rhythm of the heartbeat.
There are many different types of arrhythmia. The most common arrhythmias are harmless. Others can be serious or even life threatening. When the heart rate is too slow, too fast, or irregular, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the body. Lack of blood flow can damage the brain, heart, and other organs.
One troublesome arrhythmia that may be seen with MVP and regurgitation is atrial fibrillation. In atrial fibrillation, the walls of the atria quiver instead of beating normally. As a result, the atria aren’t able to pump blood into the ventricles the way they should.
Atrial fibrillation is bothersome but rarely life threatening unless it’s very fast or unless it causes blood clots to form in the atria. Blood clots can form in the atria because some of the blood “pools” there instead of flowing into the ventricles. If a blood clot breaks off and goes into the bloodstream, it can reach the brain and cause a stroke.
A deformed mitral valve flap attracts bacteria that may be found in the bloodstream. The bacteria attach to the valve and can cause a serious infection called infective endocarditis. Signs and symptoms of a bacterial infection include fever, chills, body aches, or headaches.
Infective endocarditis doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s serious. MVP is the most common heart condition that puts people at risk for this infection.
Floss and brush your teeth regularly. Gum infections and tooth decay can cause endocarditis.
Author/Source: National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, Division of the National Institutes of Health [NIH]
Retrieved: June 2008