A mitral valve leak is what occurs when the heart’s mitral valve fails to close tightly and, thus, allows blood to leak into the heart’s upper chamber or atrium. Also known as mitral valve regurgitation, this process actually refers to blood that flows backward and returns to the atrium instead of going to the lower chamber as it should. A mitral valve leak causes an overall decrease in the amount of blood circulating throughout the body.
The mitral valve is a special valve that ushers blood between the heart’s chambers. When this valve or the tissue surrounding it is weakened by damage or disease, it begins to malfunction and, specifically, does not completely close as it should. A mitral valve leak can occur in women and men, and is most commonly found in people over the age of 55 years old. Slight cases of mitral valve leak may or may not lead to serious complications, but severe cases of this condition grow progressively worse and can be fatal.
A mitral valve leak can be acute or chronic. In acute cases, the backward flow of blood occurs suddenly and blood rapidly builds up on the left side of the heart. This condition can be extremely life threatening and usually occurs just after a heart attack. In chronic cases, however, regurgitation is a slow process as the valve grows weaker over time. Chronic mitral valve regurgitation is usually caused by prolonged heart problems, such as congenital heart disease, rheumatic fever or a buildup of calcium in the mitral valve, which restricts its function.
A few of the most common symptoms associated with a mitral valve leak include heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, pain in the chest, chronic fatigue, edema in the extremities, lightheadedness, confusion and excessive urination, especially at night. Left untreated, mitral reflux can lead to the development of blood clots elsewhere in the body and, especially, in the lungs, or it may lead to a stroke or complete heart failure.
Conditions that may lead to a mitral valve leak include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, a heart infection or heart tumors. Some who are born with a condition known as mitral valve prolapse also eventually develop mitral regurgitation, but most do not develop severe cases of it. In very rare cases, a mitral valve leak may also be caused by syphilis that has not been properly treated or by rheumatic heart disease originally caused by strep throat.