Understanding Mitral Valve Prolapse

A common and often symptom-less abnormality in one of the heart valves, mitral valve prolapse may affect as many as one in 10 Americans. People with a mitral valve prolapse can live their whole lives without symptoms, or the abnormality can cause heart palpitations, chest pain, fainting, reduced stamina or unexplained fatigue and periods of weakness.

The mitral valve, so named because it resembles a bishop’s hat or miter, is located between the upper and lower chambers of the left side of the heart. Ordinarily the mitral valve allows blood to flow from the top to the bottom chamber only. But when there is a prolapse, one of the two leaves of the valve fails to close entirely, allowing some backflow of blood into the top chamber.

When a healthcare provider listens to a patient’s heart with a stethoscope, the abnormal valve can be detected by a murmur or slight clicking sound, which is why this condition is sometimes called “the click-murmur syndrome.

Mitral valve prolapse appears to be hereditary, is more common among women, and frequently occurs in women who also have the skeletal defect called scoliosis or curvature of the spine. Often the prolapse can be detected by stethoscope and an ECG, but a healthcare provider might also order more sophisticated tests like an echocardiogram or a 24-hour Holter heart monitor to pinpoint the diagnosis.

If you have experienced symptoms such as heart palpitations, chest pains or fainting, see your healthcare provider. If the diagnosis is mitral valve prolapse, the abnormality can usually be controlled by prescribed medications.

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