In mitral valve prolapse (MVP)—also known as floppy mitral valve syndrome—the valve between the heart’s left atrium (upper chamber) and left ventricle (lower chamber) does not close normally and balloons backward, or prolapses, into the atrium. As serious as a heart valve abnormality may sound, MVP is typically harmless and causes no symptoms.

However, in fewer than 4 percent of cases, blood may flow backward through the valve from the ventricle to the atrium (mitral regurgitation). Rarely, when severe, this can interfere with blood supply to the body, which may produce symptoms and require treatment. Often discovered in early adulthood, MVP affects nearly 5 percent of the population.

What Causes Mitral Valve Prolapse?

  • The cause of MVP is most likely genetic.
  • Women are twice as likely to develop MVP as men, especially women who are thin or who have scoliosis (curvature of the spine) or other types of skeletal abnormalities of the chest.

Symptoms of Mitral Valve Prolapse

  • In the majority of cases, MVP causes no symptoms. In more serious cases, however, the following may occur:
  • Heart palpitations (in 10 to 15 percent of cases)
  • Shortness of breath, especially when lying flat
  • Recurrent lightheadedness, especially when arising from a chair or bed; possible fainting
  • General fatigue or weakness
  • Easily tired (fatigue)
  • Anxiety
  • Chest discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Chest pain that comes and goes

Mitral Valve Prolapse Prevention

  • There is no known way to prevent MVP.

Mitral Valve Prolapse Diagnosis

  • MVP is typically discovered during a routine checkup, as the condition produces characteristic sounds that can be heard through a stethoscope.
  • Echocardiography (the use of ultrasound to map the structure and motion of the heart) confirms the diagnosis.
  • Radionuclide scans (A way of imaging organs and other parts of the body by using a small dose of a radioactive chemical)
  • Transesophageal echocardiography (it uses clearer images, especially of structures that are difficult to view transthoracicly through the chest wall)
  • Cardiac Catheterization (to take tissue samples for biopsy)

How Is Mitral Valve Prolapse Treated?

  • Treatment is rarely needed, but people with MVP should have regular checkups. Periodic echocardiograms may help evaluate a patient’s status.
  • Those with MVP are at increased risk for endocarditis (infection of a heart valve), and so may be given antibiotics prior to some dental or surgical procedures to help prevent infection.
  • Beta-blocking drugs (often used for high blood pressure) may be prescribed for patients with frequent or bothersome palpitations. However, these drugs may exacerbate fatigue.
  • For the most severe and debilitating cases of MVP, surgery to reconstruct or replace the prolapsed valve may be recommended.

When to Call a Doctor

  • See a doctor for frequent dizziness or palpitations.

Sources:

Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 16 Nov 2011

Last Modified: 28 Jan 2015