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Heart Disease Health Center

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Mitral Valve Regurgitation - Overview


What is mitral valve regurgitation?

Mitral valve regurgitation means that one of the valves in your heart-the mitral valve-is letting blood leak backward into the heart.

Heart valves work like one-way gates, helping blood flow in one direction between heart chambers or in and out of the heart. The mitral valve is on the left side of your heart. It lets blood flow from the upper to the lower heart chamber.

See a picture of mitral valve regurgitation camera.gif.

When the mitral valve is damaged-for example, by an infection-it may no longer close tightly. This lets blood leak backward, or regurgitate, into the upper chamber. Your heart has to work harder to pump this extra blood.

Small leaks are usually not a problem. But more severe cases weaken the heart over time and can lead to heart failure.

What causes mitral valve regurgitation?

There are two forms of mitral valve regurgitation: chronic and acute.

  • Chronic mitral valve regurgitation, the most common type, develops slowly.
    • Primary regurgitation means there is a problem with the anatomy of the valve. The valve does not work well and does not close tightly. This might happen because of problems like calcium buildup on the valve. It can also happen in people who have mitral valve prolapse.
    • Secondary regurgitation means another heart problem causes the valve to not close tightly. The anatomy of the valve is typically normal. The heart problem, such as heart failure, affects the heart muscle, and this causes regurgitation.
  • Acute mitral valve regurgitation develops quickly and can be life-threatening. It happens when the valve or nearby tissue ruptures suddenly. Instead of a slow leak, blood builds up quickly in the left side of the heart. Your heart doesn't have time to adjust to this sudden buildup of blood the way it does with the slow buildup of blood in chronic regurgitation. Common causes of acute regurgitation are heart attack and a heart infection called endocarditis.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of mitral valve regurgitation include being tired or short of breath when you are active.

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