The mitral valve is the bicuspid valve that separates the left ventricle from the left atrium of the heart. The sound of its flaps closing is part of the 'lub' in the traditional 'lub dub' rendering of a heartbeat. When it functions correctly, this valve allows oxygen-rich blood to flow from ventricle to atrium, where it is pumped out into the rest of the body. Due to genetics or other conditions, the flaps of the valve can fall back into the left atrium, a condition known as mitral valve prolapse. While this condition is rarely life-threatening and often asymptomatic, more severe cases can lead to blood back-flowing into the atrium, a condition known as mitral valve regurgitation. When mitral valve prolapse becomes more serious, there are several treatment options. Learn about them now.
The medications prescribed for mitral valve prolapse are administered to lower the risk of other complications that can arise from the condition, such as an irregular heartbeat or clotting. Beta blockers are used to prevent arrhythmias by slowing the heart rate and reducing the force of heart contractions. These medications also relax blood vessels throughout the body, which improves blood flow. Blood pressure lowers, and the risk of irregular heartbeat declines. However, it should be noted such medications do not remove the underlying condition, and the flaps of the valve remain in prolapse, even when these medications are administered.
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Heart Rhythm Medications
Heart rhythm medications are also not a permanent solution to mitral valve prolapse. Instead, they reduce the risk of arrhythmia to the patient who has the condition. While beta blockers affect the whole circulatory system, heart rhythm medications specifically affect the heart muscle by normalizing the electrical signals that trigger the pumping rhythm. Getting the heart rhythm back in control is important to patient safety. Prolonged arrhythmia increases the chance of stroke and other clotting issues. In addition, arrhythmias can be the source of several of the common symptoms of mitral valve prolapse: shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, and chest pain.
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The most frightening part of receiving a diagnosis of any heart ailment is the possibility of a serious emergency or death. When mitral valve prolapse leads to the back-flow of mitral valve regurgitation, the consequences can be severe, including increased risks for heart attack and stroke. As with the other medications mentioned, anticoagulants do not remedy mitral valve prolapse. Instead, they are given as a preventative measure to reduce the risk of more serious consequences. Because these medications can have some serious side effects, such as excessive bleeding and bruising, they are more likely to be prescribed when there is a family history of stroke or other risk factors.
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In most cases, surgery is not recommended for mitral valve prolapse. The risks of heart surgery outweigh the risk of the imperfect valve. However, if symptoms are becoming worse, or if mitral valve regurgitation is excessive, a permanent surgical solution is on the table. In the case of mitral valve repair, the surgery can take several forms to make certain the valve closes tightly to prevent back-flow. The technique used will depend on the cause of the prolapse. In one technique, extra connective tissue is removed from the two flaps of the mitral valve. Annuloplasty is another technique where the annulus, the connective ring that attaches the flaps to the heart muscle, is tightened or replaced.
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In a more extreme case, the extent of mitral valve prolapse or further complications of the valve may lead to the need for a full valve replacement. The surgeon will physically remove the patient's mitral valve and replace it with either a mechanical valve or a tissue valve harvested from an animal like a pig or a cow. While mechanical valves will function for many years, they require the patient to take anticoagulants for the rest of their life. Tissue valves do not have the same clotting risks as mechanical, so extra medication is not needed. However, tissue valves wear out faster than mechanical valves. This may make it necessary for the patient to go through another valve replacement surgery at a later date.