It is extremely common knowledge that heart disease is one of the major killers of men and women after a certain age in the United States. But did you know that heart disease is a term that is used to talk about a number of problems within the heart, and that when someone suffers what we term a heart attack, they could be suffering from a number of different maladies having to do with one of the the body’s two most important organs. In this article, we will explore one cause of heart attack (aka myocardial infarction) known as “mitral valve prolapsed” or sometimes, as it is rather oddly abbreviated, MVP. (Though don’t confuse the two! While you want a MVP on your team, you never, ever want a mitral valve prolapsed in your life!)
The heart, along with the brain, is one of the most important organs in the body. It is responsible for making sure that blood flows around the body and to the extremities. While people have been known to recover from the loss of extremities and even organs, if the heart stops, death is almost sure to follow unless medical attention can get it pumping again immediately. The mitral valve is so named because it resembles the classic bishop’s hat, or “miter.” A mitral valve prolapse is a type of heart disease known as “valvular heart disease.” Mitral valve prolapse occurs when one of the mitral valves, located in left atrium of the heart, is abnormally thickened. Though this sounds fairly straightforward, there are thousands of types of mitral valve prolapses.
Doctors have classified mitral valve prolapsed into two categories – classic mitral valve prolapse and non-classic mitral valve prolapse. If your doctor tells you have you non-classic mitral valve prolapse, then you are one of the lucky ones. Non-classic mitral valve prolapse is rarely accompanied by complications. Classic mitral valve prolapse, on the other hand, is characterized by severe complications, up to and including mitral regurgitation, infective endocarditis, congestive heart failure, and – in rare cases – cardiac arrest that can result in sudden death.
Mitral regurgitation is a side effect of mitral valve prolapse where blood flows abnormally through the mitral valve. Infective endocarditis is an infection of the heart. Because the heart does not receive blood directly, if bacteria manages to attach itself to the heart and infect it, white blood cells are unable to reach the heart to fight off the infection. Congestive heart failure is perhaps a more commonly known condition. In this condition, the heart is simply suffering from an impairment and finds itself unable to adequately meet the body’s needs when it comes to supplying blood. This can lead to heart attack.
So how do you know if you should be worrying about mitral valve prolapse? Well, if your doctors are worried about your heart health, they may search for mitral valve prolapse by performing an echocardiogram. This test uses ultrasound (familiar to many women who have been pregnant) to help doctors “see” the mitral valve through sound. If doctors do find a prolapsed mitral valve, then you represent about 2 to 3% of the population thought to suffer from this condition.
How do you know you may have mitral valve prolapse? The condition has been shown to exist more often in people suffering from Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Graves’ disease or polycystic kidney disease. If you suffer from any type of chest wall deformity, often present at birth, you may also be at risk for a prolapsed mitral valve.
If you feel that you are experiencing heart problems, run, don’t walk, to your nearest primary care physician or emergency room. Heart problems are a serious condition and should be treated at the first sign of trouble to prevent complications, risks, costly treatments and even death.