Skip to cookie consent Skip to main content

Mitral Valve Regurgitation: Symptoms & Causes

Mitral valve regurgitation happens when the valve between the heart's left chambers doesn't close properly, causing blood to flow backward. It can range from mild with no symptoms to severe, affecting oxygen supply to the body.

Mitral valve regurgitation

The mitral valve normally has two flaps, or leaflets, that open and close to let oxygenated blood from your lungs into the heart's pumping chamber (left ventricle). When your heart squeezes, the valve closes to send blood forward to your body and brain, keeping it from going back to the lungs.

Mitral valve regurgitation occurs when the mitral valve doesn't close correctly, allowing blood to flow backward through the valve toward the lungs. Mitral valve regurgitation can range from mild, with few or no noticeable symptoms, to severe cases where too much blood flows backward toward the lungs. This can lead to the heart struggling to supply enough oxygenated blood to the body. The severity of your mitral valve insufficiency will determine what treatment, if any, is right for you.

Mitral regurgitation symptoms

Mitral valve regurgitation doesn't always display symptoms, especially early on. As the condition progresses, you may experience:

  • Shortness of breath: When your heart doesn't pump blood effectively, your body doesn't receive enough oxygen, leaving you feeling like you can't get enough air.
  • Heart palpitations (irregular or racing heartbeat): You may be particularly aware of your heartbeat or feel a sudden rush or fluttering in your chest.
  • Foot/ankle swelling: Mitral regurgitation makes your heart inefficient. As a result, it may be hard to move blood through the body, causing it to pool in your extremities.
  • Presyncope: You may feel like you're going to faint without actually fainting.
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain

Mitral regurgitation stages

Heart valve disorders fall into one of four stages. The staging system helps you understand how serious your mitral valve regurgitation is and makes it easier for your doctor to monitor your condition over time. The four stages are:

  • Stage A (at risk): Stage A indicates that a patient is at risk for developing mitral regurgitation but doesn't yet have it. For example, they may have a mild mitral prolapse without significant regurgitation.
  • Stage B (progressive): Stage B means the patient has mild valve disease and isn't showing symptoms.
  • Stage C (asymptomatic severe): In Stage C, valve disease is more serious but isn't causing meaningful symptoms.
  • Stage D (symptomatic severe): Stage D mitral regurgitation means that there are significant problems with the valve, and the patient is experiencing noticeable symptoms.

What causes mitral valve regurgitation?

The most common cause of mitral regurgitation is mitral valve prolapse, a condition where the flaps, or leaflets, forming the valve don't close correctly. Other possible causes of mitral regurgitation include:

Types of mitral valve regurgitation

There are two types of mitral valve regurgitation: primary and secondary.

In primary mitral regurgitation, the valve is defective, such as when the flaps are misshapen. In secondary mitral regurgitation, the problem stems from another cause. For example, heart disease may cause changes to the heart that result in the valve working imperfectly, even though the flaps are formed correctly.

Treatment for mitral valve regurgitation

Treatment plans are personal since the severity and cause of mitral regurgitation vary from person to person. Your doctor can advise you on the best treatment for mitral valve regurgitation based on the details of your medical history, your mitral regurgitation symptoms, and the cause of your mitral regurgitation.

FAQs about mitral valve regurgitation

Mitral valve prolapse is when the heart's mitral valve doesn't close properly, causing the flaps of the valve to expand into the heart chamber when the heart beats. Depending on the severity of the prolapse, it may or may not cause mitral valve regurgitation (when blood flows backward through the faulty valve).

Mitral regurgitation is the most common type of heart valve disease, affecting more than 2% of people worldwide.

It can be. In some cases, mild mitral valve regurgitation may not present significant symptoms. In more severe cases, mitral valve regurgitation can prevent the heart from pumping enough blood to supply the body with oxygen and nutrients.

A leaky heart valve is usually the result of flaps, or leaflets, that are too large or thick. The cause may be genetic, or a leaky heart valve may be caused by other conditions that affect the tissues of the heart, such as certain connective tissue disorders.

High blood pressure, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption can all worsen mitral valve regurgitation. Limiting alcohol intake, quitting smoking, and maintaining healthy blood pressure through diet, exercise, and medication (if necessary) can help.

Excessive caffeine may cause irregular heartbeat and can cause a short-term increase in blood pressure, which may aggravate your mitral valve regurgitation or worsen your symptoms.

Lifestyle factors have a significant effect on mitral valve regurgitation. Help your heart by avoiding:

  • Unhealthy diet: Consuming too much salt, sugar, and alcohol isn't good for your heart. A healthy diet can support your heart and make living with mitral valve regurgitation easier.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: Getting enough exercise is important, so avoid prolonged periods of inactivity. In symptomatic cases of mitral valve regurgitation, exercise may be difficult or dangerous, so ask your doctor about your exercise regimen and the best way to stay active with your condition.
  • Tobacco and illegal drugs: These substances are unsafe and can cause problems for your heart and general health. Quitting smoking and drug use will support your overall health and your mitral valve regurgitation.

While people with may occasionally experience chest pain, it's not the most common symptom of mitral valve regurgitation. It's essential to consider other common causes of chest pain when evaluating symptoms related to mitral valve regurgitation.

Yes. Feeling tired is a common symptom of mitral valve regurgitation. 

Yes. Heart disease is a broad category that covers all conditions of the heart, including heart attacks, heart valve disorders, congenital heart defects, and more.

In medicine, "trace" means "very little." Trace mitral valve regurgitation means that some blood flows backward through the mitral valve but not very much. It indicates a very mild case of the condition. People with trace mitral valve regurgitation may not need treatment.