Managing mitral valve disease: Progress and promise

Operations to fix faulty mitral valves are on the rise. But less invasive nonsurgical strategies are under development.

The mitral valve — so named because it resembles a miter, a bishop's formal headdress — sits between the two chambers on the left side of your heart. Inherited conditions, diseases, or a combination of the two can cause changes in the size, shape, flexibility, or mechanics of the mitral valve, leaving it unable to close properly. When that happens, blood may flow backward between heartbeats, a problem called regurgitation.

While mild cases are generally harmless and cause no symptoms, more severe cases can increase the heart's workload, leading to breathlessness, fatigue, and other symptoms. Mitral valve regurgitation also produces a distinct sound (heart murmur) that a doctor may hear through a stethoscope.

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