Mitral Valve Stenosis
What is mitral valve stenosis?
Mitral valve stenosis is a heart problem in which the Reference mitral valve Opens New Window doesn't open as wide as it should. The valve becomes stiff or scarred, or the valve flaps become partially joined together.
Mitral valve stenosis can lead to Reference heart failure Opens New Window; a stroke; an infection in the heart (Reference endocarditis Opens New Window); or a fast, slow, or uneven heartbeat (Reference arrhythmia Opens New Window). Fortunately, mitral valve stenosis can be treated.
Mitral valve stenosis is not common in developed countries such as the United States, Canada, and western Europe.
How does the mitral valve work?
Your heart has four chambers and four valves. The valves have flaps, or leaflets. The flaps open and close to keep blood flowing in the proper direction through your heart.
The mitral valve connects the heart's upper left chamber (left atrium) to the lower left chamber (left ventricle). When the heart pumps, blood forces the flaps open, and blood flows from the left atrium to the left ventricle. Between heartbeats, the flaps close tightly so that blood does not leak backward through the valve.
With mitral valve stenosis, not as much blood can flow into the left ventricle. More blood stays in the left atrium, and blood may back up into the lungs.
What causes mitral valve stenosis?
Nearly all cases of mitral valve stenosis are caused by Reference rheumatic fever Opens New Window. This fever results from an untreated strep infection, most often Reference strep throat Opens New Window. But many people who have mitral valve stenosis don't realize that they had rheumatic fever.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms usually don't develop until 10 to 20 years after stenosis starts, and they may take as long as 40 years to develop.
When symptoms first appear, they usually are mild. You may only have a few symptoms, even if your mitral valve is very narrow. An early symptom is shortness of breath when you are active. This shortness of breath may seem normal to you.
Symptoms later in the disease may include:
- Shortness of breath even when you have not been very active or when you are resting.
- Feeling very tired or weak.
- Pounding of the heart (Reference palpitations Opens New Window).
Call your doctor if your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms.
How is mitral valve stenosis diagnosed?
Mitral valve stenosis may not be diagnosed until you've had the disease for some time. If you don't have symptoms, the first clue might be a heart murmur your doctor hears during a routine checkup.
Your doctor will ask you questions about your past health and do a physical exam. If your doctor thinks you might have the disease, he or she may do more tests. These may include:
- An Reference echocardiogram Opens New Window. This ultrasound test lets your doctor see a picture of your heart, including the mitral valve.
- An Reference electrocardiogram Opens New Window (EKG or ECG). This test can check for problems with your heart rhythm.
- A chest Reference X-ray Opens New Window. This shows your heart and lungs and can help your doctor find the cause of symptoms such as shortness of breath.
These tests also help your doctor find what caused the stenosis and how severe it is.
How is it treated?
Treatment depends on how severe the disease and your symptoms are.
- You'll probably need only regular checkups if you have mild or no symptoms.
- You may need medicines to relieve symptoms or treat complications.
- You may need your mitral valve repaired or replaced if you have severe symptoms, your valve is very narrow, or you are at risk for other problems, such as heart failure.
You will likely need regular echocardiograms so your doctor can check for any changes in your mitral valve and heart.
If your stenosis is mild, you'll probably be able to do your usual activities, get mild exercise, and play some sports. But if your stenosis is moderate or severe, you may need to avoid intense exercise. But your doctor can help you choose an activity or exercise that is safe for you.
You may need to limit Reference sodium Opens New Window in your diet.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference November 18, 2011|
|Medical Review:||Reference Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Reference John A. McPherson, MD, FACC, FSCAI - Cardiology