Your heart’s mitral valve is located between the left upper and lower chambers of your heart, and it functions as a one-way valve that ensures that blood flows in the right direction—from the lungs through the heart and into the body. It’s integral to circulation but when problems develop with this valve, they tend to do so slowly. It may be years before mitral valve problems bring noticeable symptoms.
The first sign of a mitral valve problem may be when your doctor detects a murmur (or swishing sound) while listening to your heart through a stethoscope. Maybe you’ve been feeling tired or short of breath as your heart tries to adapt to the defect’s impact on blood flow. Your feet and ankles may begin to swell. These may be signs that your mitral valve is becoming too narrow or not closing all the way after blood flows through.
“Floppy or leaky mitral valve is an underappreciated disease that can be effectively repaired by mitral valve surgeons in specialized centers like Yale,” says Arnar Geirsson, MD, a heart valve specialist and chief of cardiac surgery at Yale Medicine. “We find that patients generally experience significant improvement in symptoms following mitral valve surgery and should expect near normalization of their life expectancy,” says Dr. Geirsson.