Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: How often does a leaky mitral valve need to be checked?

Q. Your article on mitral valve surgery didn't mention how often someone like me — with mild regurgitation from a leaky mitral valve but no symptoms — should have his or her valve checked. Are there any standards for this?

A. It depends on how leaky the valve is and how it is affecting the heart.

Most people tolerate mild or moderate backflow (regurgitation) through the mitral valve, which sits between the left atrium and the left ventricle, because the left ventricle compensates for the backflow by growing larger. Too much growth, though, can worsen mitral regurgitation, cause rhythm problems, and lead to heart failure.

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