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Leaky Heart Valve

Leaky Heart Valve and Mitral Regurgitation

Causes of a leaky mitral valve include:

  • Mitral valve prolapse (an improper closing of the valve)
  • An enlarged heart, called cardiomyopathy, due to hypertension, coronary artery disease, or another cause
  • Endocarditis
  • Rheumatic heart disease

Some people with a leaky mitral valve don't require treatment. The standard approach is observation over time. Experts don't recommend daily medication for mitral regurgitation unless there is significant heart failure. 

Surgery to repair or replace a mitral valve that is leaking severely can result in significant improvement for certain people. Because mitral regurgitation is slowly progressive, deciding when to operate -- neither too early, nor too late -- can be difficult.

Leaky Heart Valve and Tricuspid Regurgitation

Many healthy adults have a slightly leaky tricuspid valve. This may be discovered incidentally, usually causes no problems, and does not require treatment or follow-up.

Moderate or severe tricuspid regurgitation may result from pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the pulmonary artery. This high blood pressure has many possible causes. The main one is congestive heart failure.

Medicines aren’t effective in treating tricuspid regurgitation. Diuretics, or water pills, can help relieve body swelling, or edema, that’s due to congestive heart failure. The swelling is not always present, however.

The tricuspid valve may be repaired during surgery to correct other leaky heart valves. Surgical repair of the tricuspid valve generally works better than replacing it. Surgery to replace the tricuspid valve by itself (not along with the mitral or aortic valve) is only recommended in rare cases.

Leaky Heart Valve and Pulmonary Regurgitation

Like the tricuspid valve, a small amount of pulmonic regurgitation may be present in healthy people. There are rare cases when a leaky pulmonary valve causes problems. These may be due to:

  • Elevated blood pressure in the pulmonary artery (pulmonary hypertension)
  • Previous surgery as a child to repair a severe heart defect

Usually, no treatment is required for pulmonary regurgitation. Treating the underlying medical condition is the best approach.

Living With a Leaky Heart Valve

Everyone with a leaky heart valve can benefit from daily exercise, like walking. Before engaging in competitive or contact sports, people with severe valve regurgitation should talk with their doctors.

Not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight are just as important for people with leaky heart valves as for other people. Regular follow-up with a doctor, even when there are no symptoms, can ensure a leaky heart valve does not cause problems that could be avoided.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on July 16, 2013

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