Did Mom or Dad Have This Heart Condition? You Might, Too

Family history of mitral valve prolapse boosts your risk of this common condition

Did Mom or Dad Have This Heart Condition? You Might, Too

Did you inherit Mom’s smile or Grandpa’s eyes? What about Dad’s mitral valve prolapse? For some people, this is a inheritable heart condition, meaning that it an be passed on from generation to generation. Some people may need surgery to fix the problem.

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We talked to cardiologist Patrick Collier, MD, to find out more about what you should do if mitral valve prolapse runs in your family or if your doctor says you have it.

Q: How does mitral valve prolapse affect your heart?

A: Mitral valve prolapse, or MVP, involves a problem with the mitral valve of your heart. The mitral valve acts as an inflow door into the heart’s left ventricle, which is the main pumping chamber of your heart. The mitral valve has flaps that open and close, which are called leaflets.

“Like saloon doors, abnormal prolapsing mitral valve leaflets swing backward past the frame of the door,” Dr. Collier says. “This typically causes a leak of blood to move backwards in the wrong direction, which we refer to as mitral regurgitation.”

Q: How do you know if you have it?

A: You may have MVP and not even know it.

“Most commonly, there are no symptoms” Dr. Collier says. “However, in speaking with patients who have this condition they sometimes describe palpitations, reduced exercise tolerance, fatigue, chest discomfort and light-headedness.”

Most often, a doctor finds a patient has MVP during a routine physical. The doctor may hear a murmur while checking your heart with a stethoscope, which can indicate MVP. An echocardiogram can confirm the diagnosis.

Q: What if a family member has MVP?

A: Because MVP often goes undiagnosed and causes no significant problems, you may not even be aware that this condition is part of your family health history. This is why knowing whether other family members have it may be important.

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MVP occurs in around 2 percent of the population. For some, they can be born with a genetic risk of developing MVP and may pass this on to their children. Less commonly, the condition may be associated with other health problems, such as some connective tissue diseases.

It’s a good idea to mention it to your doctor if you do know of family members who have MVP. This way you both can be proactive in monitoring your heart or knowing a possible source for symptoms you may be experiencing.

Q: If you’re diagnosed, how serious is the problem?

A: If you are diagnosed with MVP, it is important to have a detailed echocardiogram study.

“These days we no longer wait for the patient to develop shortness of breath symptoms,” Dr. Collier says.

Chances are there is no cause for deep concern, unless you’re experiencing symptoms, Dr. Collier says.

“Asymptomatic patients without significant mitral regurgitation generally have an excellent prognosis,” he says. “For many people, no specific treatment is required.”

Regular monitoring using an echocardiogram also is recommended – though you should contact your doctor if you notice new symptoms.

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Q: What are my best treatment options?

A: A small number of people go on to develop significant mitral regurgitation which, among other concerns, causes the left atrium of the heart to become enlarged and increases the risk of heart rhythm disturbances.

Mitral regurgitation also can increase the pressure on the right side of the heart, and can affect the left ventricle as well.

“Because the left ventricle is a pump, it always tries to maintain forward flow,” Dr. Collier says. “With mitral regurgitation, more blood has to enter the left ventricle before it pumps to allow for the inefficient backward flow. Over time, this may eventually lead to enlargement and even reduced function of the left ventricle.”

Before mitral regurgitation causes secondary complications, your doctor will start talking to you about treatment options.

For the small percentage of people who go on to develop significant mitral regurgitation and require surgery, most often the patient’s own valve can be repaired rather than having to be replaced. Such surgery can be done safely, especially in the hands of experienced  surgeons who operate on high numbers of patients.

“In selected cases, it may be possible to repair the the valve using minimally invasive procedures,” Dr. Collier says.

Though mitral valve prolapse sounds scary, in most cases, regular check-ups and good communication with your doctor are enough to manage this relatively common condition, Dr. Collier says.

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