The heart condition of mitral valve prolapse, also known as floppy valve syndrome, involves two flaps in a heart valve that don’t close smoothly or evenly. The condition, which requires monitoring once diagnosed, affects 2% of the population, and most don’t even know they are living with it.
“Mitral valve prolapse, also known as Barlow syndrome, is a condition that someone can be born with or it can develop later in life as a result of other health issues, primarily a connective tissue disease,” said Walter L. Sobczyk, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist who specializes in adult congenital heart disease at Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.
Rather than closing correctly, the heart’s mitral valve bulges into the left atrium, allowing a small amount of blood to leak back against the blood flow. Some patients with mitral valve prolapse, also called MVP, will develop chest pain, or palpitations (a sensation of an irregular heartbeat), but typically the condition shows no symptoms.
The prolapsed valve and subsequent leaking can cause a heart murmur (a sound made by audible blood flow). A health care provider may be able to detect the murmur with a stethoscope.
Once a murmur is suspected, the provider may order a test called an echocardiogram that uses ultrasound to evaluate the valve and determine how much blood may be leaking backward.
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“In most cases, MVP doesn’t impact someone’s health and doesn’t require treatment,” Dr. Sobczyk said. “However, it is important to continue follow-up with a heart specialist who may routinely order an echo[cardiogram] and [electrocardiogram, or EKG] to monitor the heart’s function and rhythm.”
Mitral valve prolapse rarely becomes a serious condition. However, in the most serious cases it can cause abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias) that eventually may become life-threatening and lead to a heart attack or stroke.
In some instances, patients may need to have a valve repair or even replacement.
Often the valve can be repaired, which is usually a minimally invasive procedure with little time needed to recover. In more extreme cases, the valve may need to be replaced.