What is mitral valve regurgitation?

Mitral Valve Regurgitation

Mitral valve regurgitation: Overview

The mitral valve lets blood flow from the upper to the lower heart chamber on the left side of the heart. Mitral valve regurgitation occurs when the valve can't close all the way and blood backs up into the upper chamber of the heart. This causes the heart to work harder to pump the extra blood.

You may have this condition for many years without having problems. But over time, it can weaken the heart and lead to heart failure.

This condition can be caused by many things, including mitral valve prolapse, calcium buildup on the valve, coronary artery disease, and heart failure.

Your doctor will check your heart regularly. Your doctor will likely recommend a heart-healthy lifestyle. You may take medicine to treat a problem that is causing, or was caused by, the regurgitation. If the disease becomes severe, you may choose to have the valve repaired or replaced.

Mitral valve regurgitation

Mitral valve regurgitation (MR) is the leaking or backflow of blood through the valve between the upper left heart chamber (atrium) and the lower left heart chamber (ventricle). If serious, this condition can lead to a backup of blood in the left atrium and the lungs, cause enlargement of and damage to the left ventricle, and lead to heart failure.

What are the symptoms of mitral valve regurgitation?

Symptoms of chronic mitral valve regurgitation may take decades to appear. They include being tired or short of breath when you're active. A heart murmur might be the first sign your doctor notices. Acute mitral regurgitation happens suddenly and is an emergency. Symptoms include severe shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and weakness, and chest pain.

How is mitral valve regurgitation treated?

For chronic mitral regurgitation, you may take medicines to treat problems caused by the regurgitation or to treat a heart problem that is causing it. Your doctor will check your heart regularly. You may choose to repair or replace the valve. For acute regurgitation, you likely need valve repair or replacement right away.

How is mitral valve regurgitation diagnosed?

When your doctor suspects that you have mitral valve regurgitation, you will be asked about your past health and have a physical exam. To diagnose the problem and check your heart, you'll likely have an echocardiogram. You may have other tests to help your doctor see how well your heart is working.

How can you care for yourself when you have mitral valve regurgitation?

  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Call your doctor if you have new symptoms or your symptoms get worse.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods. These include vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains. Limit sodium, sugar, and alcohol.
  • Be active. Ask your doctor what type and level of exercise is safe for you. Let your doctor know if your ability to exercise changes.
  • Do not smoke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
  • Manage other health problems. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor.
  • Avoid infections such as COVID-19, colds, and the flu. Get the flu vaccine every year. Get a pneumococcal vaccine. If you have had one before, ask your doctor whether you need another dose. Stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Take care of your teeth and gums. Get regular dental checkups. Good dental health is important because bacteria can spread from infected teeth and gums to the heart valves.

How is valve repair or replacement used to treat mitral valve regurgitation?

If you have severe chronic mitral valve regurgitation, you may choose to have the mitral valve repaired or replaced. The goal is for blood to flow more normally through the valve. Valve repair may be done with surgery or a catheter procedure. Valve replacement is done with a surgery. You and your doctor can decide if repair or replacement is right for you.

Primary mitral valve regurgitation.

Valve repair may be done to help the valve work better. Or the valve may be replaced. Repair or replacement helps prevent damage to the heart that can be caused by the regurgitation.

Secondary mitral valve regurgitation.

Valve repair or replacement may be done to help relieve symptoms, help you live longer, and improve your quality of life. Repair or replacement cannot cure secondary mitral regurgitation because it is caused by another heart problem.

With acute mitral regurgitation, urgent repair or replacement surgery is usually needed.

What causes mitral valve regurgitation?

Primary mitral valve regurgitation may be caused by problems like mitral valve prolapse or calcium buildup on the mitral valve. Secondary regurgitation may be caused by coronary artery disease or heart failure. Acute regurgitation is caused by a problem that happens all of a sudden, such as a heart attack.

Mitral valve regurgitation

Location of mitral valve in the heart and detail of mitral valve regurgitation

Mitral valve regurgitation happens when the mitral valve does not close tightly enough after blood flows through the valve into the lower chamber of the heart. This makes a small opening in the valve even when the valve is closed. This opening can let blood leak (regurgitate) back into the upper chamber of the heart.

Mitral valve regurgitation: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You cough up pink, foamy mucus.
  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new symptoms or your symptoms get worse.
  • You have new or increased shortness of breath.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have sudden weight gain, such as more than 2 to 3 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week. (Your doctor may suggest a different range of weight gain.)
  • You have new or increased swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet.
  • You are suddenly so tired or weak that you cannot do your usual activities.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you develop new symptoms.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

Specialized emergency services

Find care near you

Comprehensive care

Find an ER near you