crowded street showing who is at risk for mitral valve prolapse

Who is At Risk for Mitral Valve Prolapse?

Mitral valve prolapse (MVP) is a heart condition of one of the valves that help control blood flow. While it is often asymptomatic, it can be severe enough to cause mitral valve regurgitation, in which the blood flows into parts of the heart the mitral valve is intended to keep it out of. The exact cause of MVP is still unknown, making it difficult to pinpoint specific risk factors. However, researchers have managed to discover a few issues that can make mitral valve prolapse more likely. 

What is the mitral valve? 

Blood flows through the body -- and the heart --  in a specific pattern. The heart is composed of four chambers: two upper atria and two lower ventricles. After blood has passed through the lungs to resupply its oxygen, it returns to the left atrium of the heart. It then passes through the mitral valve, which flaps open with each pump of the heart, and into the left ventricle. 

A prolapse refers to a bulge, often because the strength of a specific body part is compromised. For example, pelvic organ prolapse in not uncommon in women who have given birth -- the bladder or uterus can lose strength, fall from their original position and bulge into places they aren’t supposed to be. When the mitral valve prolapses, it doesn’t close correctly. It may bulge into the atrium, preventing a strong seal. Additionally, the valve itself may be abnormal; it may be too floppy or stretchy, too large, or the opening it covers may be too big for the mitral valve to cover correctly. 

What are the risk factors for MVP?

The closest experts have come to finding a cause is the apparent genetic connection. MVP is more common in people who have family members who also have MVP. Additionally, some types of connective tissue disorders can increase the likelihood that you will have a mitral valve prolapse. Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are two such disorders; Marfan syndrome is a genetic disorder that interferes with the body’s production of protein, which makes up connective tissue. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a group of disorders that affect the skin, joints, and blood vessel walls.  

Certain congenital heart disorders also come with a higher chance of MVP. Ebstein’s anomaly is one such. Although rare, Ebstein’s is characterized by a defect of the tricuspid valve, which essentially does the mitral valve’s job, except on the right side chambers. Rather than prolapsing, the tricuspid valve is lower than it should be or does not fit over the hole it covers because of oddly shaped leaflets. However, MVP is still seen in conjunction with Ebstein’s anomaly.  

Other disorders that increase the risk of MVP include muscular dystrophy, another group of genetic disorders. These, however, tend to cause weakness of the muscles that gets progressively worse. Graves’ disease is another potential correlation which causes the thyroid to become extremely overactive; as is scoliosis, an abnormal curving of the spine. If you have any of these disorders and have noticed symptoms related to MVP or mitral valve regurgitation, talk to your doctor about your options. 

Last Updated: October 26, 2016