Living with Mitral Valve Prolapse

Being diagnosed with a heart condition is worrisome, but treatments are always advancing and more and more patients are living long, full lives even with heart conditions. There are many different types of heart problems, including valvular heart disease. Each year in the United States, around 5 million people are diagnosed with this condition.

Mitral valve prolapse is one type of valvular heart disease. Around 2% of the population is living with mitral valve prolapse. In this condition, the mitral valve (one of several valves in the heart), is leaky and some blood flows in the wrong direction when the heart beats. This can cause a heart murmur, or abnormal-sounding heartbeat when your doctor listens with a stethoscope.

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Cathy's journey living with mitral valve prolapse

Meet MedicAlert Member Cathy, age 56. Cathy has mitral valve prolapse, and despite it being a life-long disorder, many people with the condition never experience symptoms and are often surprised when they learn they have a heart condition.

Not all heart diseases are the same. It is important to understand that different types of heart disease affect different parts of the heart. Some require very specific medications with potentially dangerous side effects. For example, Cathy must take the blood thinner Coumadin for the rest of her life due to her heart disease. 

Coumadin helps prevent clots from forming in the blood and helps to keep blood flowing smoothly throughout the body. It can also cause a dangerous bleeding event due to a medical procedure, an unexpected injury, or other emergency. For those reasons, Cathy wears her MedicAlert ID bracelet to alert emergency medical providers to her cardiac condition and her medications.

How Cathy learned about MedicAlert

Cathy explains, “On February 3, 2002 I watched the New England Patriots defeat the heavily favored Rams – 20-17, clinching their first Super Bowl Championship. It was a sweet victory, and I savored the moment knowing that the next day I’d be heading to Massachusetts General Hospital for a TEE –  a transesophageal echocardiogram along with an angioplasty.”

She continues, “My cardiologist wanted to evaluate my heart and surrounding structures – they needed to see my leaky valve to determine its efficacy. I live with mitral valve prolapse (MVP) a condition where the heart’s mitral valve – which controls blood flow between the upper and lower chambers of the left side of the heart – doesn’t work the way it should.”

For me, my MedicAlert ID and protection plan gives me peace of mind – I love knowing that I have a safety net should I ever need one.

Time for surgery

Unfortunately, Cathy’s TEE showed that her mitral valve was so damaged that it had to be replaced. She was scheduled for surgery the very next day, which thankfully went well. Cathy recalls, “When I was ready to be discharged and getting the rundown on my medications, I found out that I would be on Coumadin for the rest of my life. During my discharge, my doctors advised that I should get a MedicAlert ID bracelet, so that first responders would know at one glance that I was on blood thinner medication.”

Cathy shares that before this, she had always thought that MedicAlert bracelets were for diabetics. “I’ve since learned that the bracelets are worn by so many people with a wide range of medical conditions,” she says. And, “18 years later, I still wear my bracelet 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. I am grateful that I’ve never had a medical emergency, but I will continue to wear my MedicAlert ID and will always keep my MedicAlert membership up to date.”

Additionally, Cathy enjoys treating herself to a new MedicAlert bracelet every few years, thanks to the many options available. She says, “I like to freshen up my look! For me, my MedicAlert ID and protection plan gives me peace of mind – I love knowing that I have a safety net should I ever need one.”

What is the cause of mitral valve prolapse?

There are two forms of mitral valve prolapse, depending on the cause. They are called primary and secondary mitral valve prolapse.

  • In primary mitral valve prolapse, the valve flaps (the parts that open and close) are thickened. This is often seen in people with a hereditary condition known as Marfan’s Syndrome. It can also been seen in other hereditary connective tissue diseases.

  • In secondary mitral valve prolapse, the valves may be damaged by heart disease like rheumatic heart disease, a heart attack, or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

How is mitral valve prolapse diagnosed?

When your doctor examines you and listens to your heart with a stethoscope, he or she may suspect mitral valve prolapse. They can then order further testing. An echocardiogram is a common test. An echocardiogram examines the structure and function of the heart through ultrasound. 

Cardiac MRI can also be done to diagnose mitral valve prolapse.

Facts About
Heart Disease

Mitral valve prolapse affects an estimated 3%-5% of the American population.

Nearly 25,000 deaths in the U.S. each year are due to heart valve disease from causes other than rheumatic disease.

Rheumatic heart disease most commonly affects the mitral valve or the aortic valve, but any valve and more than one can be affected.

Source: CDC.GOV

How is mitral valve prolapse treated?

The treatment for mitral valve prolapse depends on how severe the symptoms are. Heart palpitations caused by this condition can be treated with medications. Sometimes surgery is needed for worsening symptoms. The mitral valve is repaired or replaced during the surgery. Regardless, there are effective ways for patients living with mitral valve prolapse to treat the condition and live a full life.

What are the symptoms of mitral valve prolapse getting worse?

It is common for people with this disorder not to experience symptoms and their health is not adversely affected. Mitral valve prolapse, however, can result in blood flowing backward through the mitral valve with each heartbeat. This is called regurgitation. Over years, mitral regurgitation can cause weakness of the heart muscle. This is known as congestive heart failure. Heart attacks and strokes can also happen due to severe mitral valve prolapse.

When mitral valve prolapse worsens, you may also notice worsening symptoms. Some symptoms include:

  • Irregular or racing heartbeat
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue

If symptoms are worsening, you develop an arrhythmia, or tests show your heart is becoming enlarged or weakened, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair or replace your mitral valve.

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