Q&A: What is mitral valve prolapse?
My son was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse during a routine exam. The doctor ordered a cardiac ultrasound. Is this a serious condition?
In order to discuss mitral valve prolapse (MVP), how it is diagnosed, and what this heart condition means, it’s necessary to first explain a bit about how the heart works and the role of a normal mitral valve. After blood circulates through the lungs, it carries oxygen back to the heart that can then pumped out to the rest of the body. This blood first enters a chamber of the heart called the left atria. It then enters into a second, bigger chamber (the left ventricle) whose job it is to pump blood out into the body. Connecting these two chambers is the mitral valve—a valve made up of two flaps that function somewhat like swinging doors which allow blood to pass from the atria to the ventricle. Ordinarily, these flaps swing open into the left ventricle and then fully close with each heartbeat. In the case of MVP, however, one or both flaps open abnormally and, in some instances, may not fully close.
By carefully listening to someone’s heart during a routine physical exam, it is sometimes possible for a doctor to hear a clicking sound (thought to be related to the abnormal movement of the valve) and/or a murmur (the sound of blood leaking back through the valve). While a click or a murmur can be suggestive of MVP, an echocardiogram is typically recommended in order to confirm the diagnosis. The echocardiogram provides pictures of the heart, the valves, and the blood flowing through the heart—all of which help determine how serious the valve abnormality is. While the severity of mitral valve prolapse can vary, the good news is that most kids with MVP experience few if any symptoms or problems, and most often end up leading totally normal lives.