Leaking mitral valve lets blood move backward

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September 26, 2019 - 10:08 AM

Dear Dr. Roach: I’m 87 and have survived melanoma, which is now under control. I garden, grow flowers and landscape daily. I keep busy two to three hours a day outside. But last week I was winded from a 12-step steep staircase. I was amazed.

My doctor noted that I have “nonrheumatic mitral valve insufficiency.” Does this explain my shortness of breath? I’ve done the treadmill test twice over the past five years with good results. Is it just a reminder that I am 87? — R.K.

Answer: The mitral valve connects the left atrium with the left ventricle, and it prevents the powerful contraction of the left ventricle from pushing blood backward into the left atrium and even into the lungs. “Insufficiency” of the valve, also called mitral regurgitation, means that the valve leaks, and some blood is flowing backward. In North America, rheumatic fever was a major cause of damage to the mitral heart valve prior to antibiotics, and it still is in undeveloped parts of the world. “Nonrheumatic” means that the damage to your mitral valve was not from rheumatic heart disease.

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