Your heart has four chambers (or “rooms”). The mitral valve controls the flow of blood between 2 of the chambers, called the left atrium and the left ventricle. Normally, when the heart relaxes in between beats, the 2 flaps of the mitral valve swing open to let blood flow from the atrium to the ventricle. The flaps normally open only one way and the blood only flows one way. (See the pictures below.)
If you have mitral valve prolapse, the flaps of the mitral valve don't work properly. One of the flaps moves back into the atrium when the heart beats. When this happens, blood can flow backwards, from the ventricle back into the atrium.
About 1 in 20 Americans has mitral valve prolapse. People are usually born with it. More women have it than men.
Most people don’t know that they have mitral valve prolapse until a doctor finds it during a physical exam. Some people may have symptoms that include the following:
Usually, your doctor will find mitral valve prolapse during a regular exam. When listening to your heart with a stethoscope, your doctor may hear the flap of your mitral valve make a clicking sound. If blood is flowing back into the atrium, your doctor will hear a "whooshing" sound. This sound is called a murmur.
To find out how well your valve is working, your doctor may have you get an echocardiogram. The echocardiogram provides a picture of your heart that shows your valve as the blood flows through it. This can help your doctor decide if you need treatment.
Most people who have mitral valve prolapse don't need any treatment. Only about 2 of every 100 people who have this condition have complications. Your doctor will tell you if you need treatment.
Some people who have mitral valve prolapse have to limit participation in competitive sports. If your mitral valve prolapse causes chest pain or other symptoms, your doctor might prescribe medicines such as beta blockers to make your symptoms better. Some people need surgery to fix the valve.
In serious cases of mitral valve prolapse, infection (called bacterial endocarditis) can occur in the valve after surgery or dental work. If you have mitral valve prolapse, check with your doctor before dental work (including professional teeth cleaning) or other medical procedures. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics prior to the procedure to protect against infection.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff