What Are the Treatments for Mitral Valve Regurgitation?

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on August 22, 2022
5 min read

The kind of treatment you get for mitral valve regurgitation, in which blood flows the wrong way through a valve in your heart, depends on several things. These include whether the condition is getting worse and how your body is reacting.

If your case is mild, you may not even feel symptoms. Your doctor might just want to keep a watchful eye on it and look at what you eat and how much you exercise.

If your case is a tougher one, they might prescribe medications for you or even want you to have surgery.

When your heart pumps blood, it’s supposed to go in one direction. Your mitral valve is one of the parts that makes this happen.

It’s located between two of the four chambers in your heart: the left atrium and the left ventricle. When it’s working the right way, the valve opens up and allows blood to flow out of the atrium, which is above it. It’s then supposed to close back up.

But sometimes, it doesn’t seal as it should and lets blood leak back into the atrium. That is called mitral valve regurgitation.

You may feel tired and out of breath if you have mitral regurgitation. You might have fluid collecting in your legs and feet. This is called edema.

It can also cause high blood pressure and a buildup of fluid in your lungs.

If it’s left untreated and gets worse, regurgitation could lead to heart failure, stroke, or blood clots because the heart can’t pump enough blood to your body.

There are two kinds: chronic (which means ongoing) or acute (which means sudden onset).

A chronic case develops slowly, and you may not even notice symptoms at first. Signs of the condition slowly get worse over time.

An acute case comes on quickly and can be life-threatening. Your doctor will want to take fast action.

Ask your doctor to explain this to you in more detail.

If you have mild to moderate symptoms, your doctor might try to manage the condition without medication.

If you smoke, try to stop. Seek out help if you can’t do it on your own. You might need to cut back on how much alcohol you drink.

Your doctor or a dietitian may talk to you about cutting back on salt, added sugars, and saturated and trans fats. But this is also about what you can enjoy, too: plenty of fruits, vegetables, and protein.

Exercise is good for your heart and lungs. Even a small increase in physical activity every day is good for you. The more active you are, the bigger the benefit. Talk to your doctor before you start a new routine, though.

Sometimes, lifestyle changes alone won’t do the trick. You and your doctor have other options.

Medicine cannot reverse the actual condition. But it can treat many of the symptoms regurgitation causes and can be used if the leakage isn’t too bad. Depending on what’s going on in your body, your doctor may put you or a loved one on the following:

  • Diuretics that help reduce the buildup of fluids in the body and swelling in the legs and feet
  • Blood thinners to prevent with clots
  • Beta blockers that help control your heart rate
  • Hypertension drugs to keep your blood pressure stable

Sometimes, lifestyle changes and medications aren’t enough. You may need to have your mitral valve repaired or replaced if your condition starts to affect your heart’s ability to pump blood.

The decision on whether to fix it and what type of procedure to use depends on several things:

  • The severity of your valve problem
  • Your age and health
  • Whether you need surgery for other heart conditions, too

A doctor may do a procedure that uses a catheter, which is a flexible plastic tube. Your surgeon may make a small cut, or incision, into your chest to guide it in.

For others, open-heart surgery is the best option.

This is the most common way to repair or replace your heart valve.

You may need it even if you don’t have any symptoms. That’s because your doctor might decide this will prevent long-term heart damage.

Usually, doctors prefer to repair the valve instead of replacing it. It all depends on your particular case, though.

If you get a replacement, the valve may be a man-made device or it could come from a pig, a cow, or someone who signed up for organ donation before they died.

During open-heart surgery, you’ll be given something so you won’t be awake. You will not feel pain during the procedure.

Sometimes, doctors will decide someone is too sick to have open-heart surgery. They have other options.

Your doctor could recommend what’s called “minimally invasive heart surgery.” Instead of opening up your chest, your doctor creates one or more small cuts and works through them.

Depending on the kind of procedure, the surgeon may use a robotic arm or a long, flexible tube called a thoracoscope that holds a tiny video camera.

Like open-heart surgery, you’ll be given something so you won’t be awake or feel any pain while it’s going on.

This is a newer field of surgery, so you want to ask your doctor about the experience level of the team and the hospital in doing this type of procedure.

Your doctor may not think you’re healthy enough for surgery or that the fix can be made with something easier on you. Some hospitals are able to use catheters to repair or replace the valve. There are several types of procedures that use these small, flexible tubes.

Your doctor inserts the catheter into a blood vessel in your leg and guides it toward your heart. It may hold a clip at the end to repair your valve. Or it may carry a balloon that’s inflated at the right spot to make room for a replacement valve.

During these procedures, you are given something to help you stay calm, but you may be awake.

It’s a good idea to plan for your first week of meals before you go into the hospital. You can make them ahead of time and freeze them. That makes it easy for a relative or friend to warm up the food for you.

Arrange for someone to drive you to and from the hospital and while you’re recovering.

Ask someone to listen to the doctor’s instructions when you’re sent home from the hospital. You may not be thinking as clearly as normal because of the surgery. You may even want to consider home health care during the early stages of your recovery.

You’ll need to remember the medication and the proper doses you need to take after surgery. Use a chart or tracker to help you keep up with that.