One of the heart's four valves, the mitral valve is located between the heart's upper chamber, called the left atrium, and the heart's lower chamber, called the left ventricle.
Valves control the blood flow through the heart. The mitral valve controls the blood flow from the left atrium into the left ventricle. When the heart contracts, the mitral valve closes to prevent blood from backing up into the lungs. If the valve becomes diseased or damaged, it may be surgically repaired to restore function.
Heart surgeons at the UCSF Heart and Vascular Center are leading experts in the surgical repair of mitral valve disorders. They also offer early mitral valve repair before the heart is severely damaged by the faulty valve.
If left untreated, mitral valve disease may lead to more serious problems, such as heart dilation, in which the heart's walls become stretched and weakened. As a result, heart rhythm problems may occur, including atrial fibrillation. In some cases, the mitral valve is so damaged it cannot be surgically repaired. Our surgeons also specialize in replacing the damaged mitral valve with an artificial or natural valve.
The two most common conditions that require mitral valve repair include:
Other conditions that may require mitral valve repair include:
Surgical repair of a malfunctioning mitral valve is recommended when it causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pains, dizziness, swelling of the ankles or legs, cough or heart palpitations. It may also be recommended when the damaged or diseased mitral valve causes the heart muscle to weaken.
The diagnosis of mitral valve disease is confirmed with echocardiography. This is a safe, painless test that uses sound waves (ultrasound) to examine the heart's structure and motion. This test provides information about the heart's pumping ability, blood flow activity, valve function, size and pressure.
UCSF is an international leader in echocardiography and has been at the forefront of developing new techniques and equipment in this field. UCSF cardiac surgeons not only use echocardiography before surgery to diagnose mitral valve disease and plan the procedure, but also during repair.
In many cases, the echocardiography tells surgeons all they need to know to perform the surgery, so that cardiac catheterization — an invasive procedure performed to obtain detailed information about the heart — is not necessary. Cardiac catheterization uses catheters, which are thin, flexible tubes inserted through tiny incisions in the groin or neck and threaded through blood vessels to the heart.
If the mitral valve becomes diseased or damaged, it may be surgically repaired to restore function. Mitral valves also may be replaced with an artificial or natural valve. However, research has shown that there are many advantages of surgically repairing, rather than replacing, a mitral valve. In certain cases, however, the valve may be so seriously damaged that valve replacement is recommended.
Your surgeon will discuss both treatment options with you. The decision regarding whether to have valve repair or replacement depends on a number of factors, including your age, overall health, cause of valve damage and expected benefits of surgery.
Mitral valve repair is an open heart procedure performed by a cardiothoracic surgeon, a doctor who specializes in heart and lung conditions.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.