Mitral valve prolapse (MVP) is very common. Studies have shown that it occurs in 4 to 8 percent of the population.
The mitral valve has two flaps or leaflets. They are shaped somewhat like a parachute and are attached to the supporting muscles by strings. These strings help the flaps close evenly.
By opening and closing, the mitral valve ensures that the blood flows in just one direction-from the left atrium to the left ventricle. When the mitral valve closes, it blocks blood from returning to the left atrium when the ventricle pumps. That ensures that the blood goes through the aortic valve, into the aorta and on to the rest of the body.
In mitral valve prolapse, one or both mitral valve leaflets are enlarged or their supporting strings are too long. As a result, when the heart pumps, the mitral valve flaps don't close evenly. Instead, part of one or both flaps goes farther backward than normal into the left atrium. This sometimes allows a small amount of blood to leak backward through the valve.
In general, the answer is no. It's extremely rare for mitral valve prolapse to be a serious or life-threatening problem. If any problems, they are usually minor. As with most other heart valve abnormalities, antibiotics may be recommended before certain dental and surgical procedures. These will prevent your valve from becoming infected with bacteria. Ask your doctor if you will need to take antibiotics.
Some people with MVP may have abnormal heart rhythms. Usually no treatment is needed for this, although in some cases medication is required. These rhythms are usually felt as heart palpitation or "skipped beats."
A very few people with MVP may tire easily, have chest pain or shortness of breath. These symptoms rarely require medication. If you have these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean you have MVP or any form of heart disease. The vast majority of people with MVP have few or no symptoms.
If you have mitral valve prolapse, your doctor will probably find evidence of it by listening to your heart with a stethoscope. Your doctor will decide whether medications or special tests are needed. One test that may be done is an echocardiogram.
It is important to know if you have MVP, because taking medication you can usually prevent or control occasional problems that might otherwise arise.
It is also important that MVP is not confused as a more serious problem. Occasionally a person having an echocardiogram for other reasons will show to have a valve that seems slightly prolapsed. Whether this is a true abnormality or just a variation of normal remains controversial. No treatment is needed.