I've Been Diagnosed with Mitral Valve Disease - Now What?

By Tammy Wilson

The mitral valve sits between the left atrium and the left ventricle - it acts as the valve which stops blood from flowing back into the heart when the ventricle contracts and expels the blood from the heart and sends it on its journey around the body with fresh oxygen. The mitral valve does this by using two leaves which are shaped like parachutes and open when the left atrium contracts and forces blood into the left ventricle and then closes when the ventricle contracts.

Mitral disease is caused by several conditions but the most common is created by a condition called "myxomatous"; this condition attacks the leaves and the "chordate", which hold the parachute to the inner walls of the left ventricle. The collagen and proteins forming the mitral valve become thickened and enlarged which leads to an inability to open when the ventricle contracts. This allows blood to flow back into the left atrium and this is known as mitral regurgitation and in severe instances will result in a potentially fatal heart attack.

Symptoms which are commonly associated with mitral valve disease include dizzy spells; a pounding or irregular heart beat; swollen ankles or feet; waking up coughing; excessive tiredness as you go through the day, and shortness of breath when lying down. Mitral valve disease affects around 5% to 10% of the global population and the condition runs in families - heredity and genetic factors appear to be the major cause of predisposition to the disease and patients are typically thin, tall with long arms and fingers and straight backs.

Your doctor will have diagnosed the condition by physical examination, X-Ray or ECG (an electrocardiogram also known as an EKG). The most common diagnostic tool is an Echocardiogram which uses ultrasound to diagnose the condition and the severity of the mitral valve problem. A cardiac catheter may also be used which involves a heart examination by inserting a catheter in the groin and pushing it up to the heart - this may sound extreme but it is an excellent tool for determining the condition of your arteries and heart.

Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and where surgery is indicated, the mitral valve lends itself to being repaired using a ring which is sewn around the valve. This provides structural integrity and reshapes the valve back into a more normal configuration. Where mitral disease has advanced to a more severe state, the entire valve can be replaced using an artificial, man-made valve or a biological one. Biological valves are made from pig or cow tissue and have the advantage of allowing patients to avoid a lifetime's use of anticoagulants to prevent blood clotting - they typically last for around 15 to 20 years. Artificial valves can last a lifetime but the patient must always use anticoagulants to prevent blood clotting issues which can arise with their use.

Surgery always carries a degree of risk but success rates for mitral valve repair and replacement are high and post-operation, recovery to an enjoyable standard of life is common. - 30540

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