Harvard Heart Letter

When and how to treat a leaky mitral valve

If the mitral valve in the heart becomes damaged it can leak, causing blood to flow backward and overwork the heart. A leaky valve can be surgically replaced, but in some situations repairing the valve is more effective than surgery. The repair operation has a lower rate of death (one to two per 100 operations) than valve replacement (four to six per 100), causes fewer strokes, is more effective at reducing symptoms of mitral regurgitation, has a shorter recovery time, and is associated with fewer postoperative heart rhythm problems. Long-term studies show low rates of reoperation. Repaired valves don't wear out, as biological valves do, nor do they need anticoagulation, as mechanical valves do. But they can fail over time due to progression of the disease that caused the regurgitation in the first place.
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