Harvard Heart Letter

When and how to treat a leaky mitral valve

Symptoms, heart measurements guide the need for mitral valve surgery.

The heart is a marvel of biological engineering. Four strategically placed valves ensure that every contraction propels blood forward with little or no backflow. On the right side of the heart, the tricuspid and pulmonary valves direct the orderly flow of blood; on the left side, the mitral and aortic valves. Although all four valves are essential for good health, we focus on the mitral valve in this article.

If the mitral valve is damaged or becomes misaligned, it can't close completely with each heartbeat. Some blood spurts backward with each contraction. This backflow, called mitral regurgitation, puts a strain on the heart. It can provoke symptoms such as breathlessness and fatigue and lead to atrial fibrillation or heart failure.

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