Mitral Valve Regurgitation: How Is It Diagnosed?

Mitral valve regurgitation goes by many names. Mitral incompetence, mitral insufficiency, and mitral regurgitation all work to describe what this defect in your heart valve does – in some way. It shows that Mitral valve regurgitation is when your mitral valve isn't working sufficiently.

What happens is, the mitral valve in your heart isn't able to fully close (it could be because of injury or swelling), and this lets the blood flow back into the previous chamber of the heart. When blood isn't able to move through the heart sufficiently, it can cause fatigue and loss of breath, among other things.

How is Mitral Valve Regurgitation Diagnosed?


You might not even be at the doctor for heart issues and have your doctor suggest more testing for a heart valve issue. When your doctor is routinely checking your heartbeat and breathing with their stethoscope, they can hear when you have irregular heartbeats and heart murmurs (which offers a kind of whooshing sound). Heart murmurs are definitely a cause for doctors to look into valve issues, as it is a regular symptom of these types of heart troubles.

Heart diagram showing Mitral Valve Regurgitation

If you come in complaining of shortness of breath or fatigue, your doctor may consider checking your heart as well, especially if you have a personal or family history of heart disease. It's common for a family doctor to refer you to a cardiologist for further testing.

The tests that will most likely be performed in order to diagnose you with mitral valve regurgitation, or any other heart issue, include –

  • Chest X-ray – Chest x-rays allow your doctor to see where any swelling or enlargement may be happening in your lungs. If they spot an enlargement in the left atrium or ventricle, this could be a sign of mitral valve regurgitation.
  • Cardiac CT – This is a test that is more likely done after you've been diagnosed with mitral valve problems – as the CT angiogram lets the doctor see if you are able to get a mitral valve repair using robotics. These scans let them look not only at your heart and lungs but also the pelvis and abdomen.
  • Cardiac MRI – if your doctor feels as though they need a better look at your heart, they will use a cardiac MRI machine. This tool uses radio waves and magnetic fields and can assist in assessing the severity of your heart issues.
  • Echocardiogram – This is one of the most common tests used in diagnosing mitral valve regurgitation. It's a test that uses sound waves to get a clear picture of your heart while it is beating (the same technology used in sonograms to look at babies in the womb). The doctor is able to get a 3-D view of what your heart is doing.
  • Transesophageal Echocardiogram – For a front seat view of your mitral valve, the doctor might use this test which has a mall transducer that is sent down through your esophagus on a long tube. It's a closer look than the normal Echo.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) – This is the test that uses electrodes and adhesive pads to check your heart's electrical impulses. This test can help your doctor find abnormal rhythms in your heartbeat, as well as enlarged heart chambers (an enlargement of your heart or individual chambers can be a sign of other underlying problems).
  • Stress TestsStress tests are essential in looking for heart issues and help your doctor to find out your heart's tolerance to activities. There are medications that your doctor might consider administering that will mimic the stress test, for people that are unable to exercise.

These various tests will help your doctor determine if you have mitral valve regurgitation and how severe your condition is. The severity will be an important consideration when it comes to treatment.

How Is Mitral Valve Regurgitation Treated?


For people that have a trivial diagnosis of mitral valve regurgitation, no treatment is necessary. Your doctor may keep an eye on your heart, but they may only check it yearly when it's time for your physical. Many people have mitral valve regurgitation and don't know it, never noticing any symptoms (this is often the case in mild cases).

The more severe your case, the more options there are for treatment. Your doctor will want to do what they can to keep your condition from getting worse and to help you deal with any side effects. Treatments can include both medications and surgery.

1. Medications

Bunch of medicine tablets

Medications can be used to treat the symptoms of your conditions – which will help you feel better in the long run.

Blood thinners can be used to help prevent the formation of blood clots when your heart isn't pumping the way it's supposed to be and in the case of not getting enough oxygen-rich blood flowing through the body.

Diuretics are often given to patients to help battle the fluid retention that comes with mitral valve regurgitation. These “water pills” will help reduce swelling in the legs and in the lungs.

High blood pressures prescription medications are common for people with heart disease, but they can worsen mitral valve regurgitation. While you don't want to get off pills that could be saving your life, your doctor might be able to lower your prescription to help prevent your case from worsening.

2. Surgery

Surgeons doing their work in an operating room

If your mitral valve regurgitation is severe, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery can help in a couple of ways – it can be used to replace the valve or to repair it. Which the doctor opts for depends on the condition of your valve (which they will have determined through testing).

Most of the time your doctor won't make this the first route, but they may opt to fix the valve if you're getting any other heart surgery done. The surgery can be performed using an incision in the chest or using robot-assisted surgery techniques – some techniques are more invasive than others.

When mitral valve repair is a viable option, the surgeon reconnects the flaps of the valves if they are the issue. Sometimes it's the cords that connect and support the valves that need to be repaired. If the valve's issue is that it closes too tightly, the doctor will remove excess tissue to repair it.

Repair is usually the first option when it comes to surgery, but not all mitral valves are repairable. When replacing a damaged mitral valve, doctors use human heart tissue in some cases, but they can also use valves made from the heart tissue of a pig or a cow. These valves will break down over time.

Mechanical valves can also be used. This type of valve has a longer lifeline.

Keeping Your Mitral Valve Healthy at Home

Woman measuring her waist while holding a bowl of salad

If heart disease runs in your family or you've been diagnosed with a trivial case of mitral valve regurgitation, you may want to start doing more things to help keep your heart healthy. These changes can also be helpful in severe cases as you wait for treatment.

Stay in control of your blood pressure, not only by checking it regularly but also by avoiding too much stress and lowering your intake of salty foods. Aside from decrease sodium intake, you also want to eat heart-healthy foods – like fish, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

A healthy diet will actually go a long way with helping you maintain a healthy weight, but it is also important to exercise regularly. Exercise helps build a strong heart. You should take some time to talk with your doctor about which exercises are OK for you to do - which will depend on the condition of your heart and overall health.

Make healthy lifestyle changes. Stop smoking and cut back on how much alcohol your drink. Both of these bad habits are damaging to your heart health.

Lastly, be sure to go to your annual physicals. If your doctor suggests more regular checkups, do them. Heart health is a key to an active and healthy life, so you want to do what your doctor says to maintain the health you have.


Final Thoughts on Mitral Valve Regurgitation


Mitral valve regurgitation may not always be a severe issue, but it is a valve disease that your doctor may want to keep an eye on once you've gotten a diagnosis. If you've been suffering for fatigue or other symptoms of heart issues, getting a checkup is essential in early detection of any type of heart disease – and it could save your life.

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