Mitral Valve Disease
The mitral valve controls the flow of blood going in one direction from the lungs to the body. If the valve does not close properly, or open completely, the heart has to work twice as hard to do its job, which can lead to life threatening heart conditions. The mitral valve specialists of the University of Michigan Health System’s Cardiac Surgery Division have successfully repaired thousands of mitral valves. Our high volume translates to extensive experience in the operating room.
We have the largest mitral valve practice in the country. Our goal is mitral valve repair, which has better long-term outcomes than mitral valve replacement. The average number of mitral valve repair surgeries per surgeon in the U.S. is 4 per year. That’s approximately 145 surgeries per career. We do more than 200 mitral valve repairs per year. In fact, our director alone has performed more than 3,500 mitral valve repairs to date. And, in the U.S., while the degenerative mitral valve repair rate is 41%, our repair rate is over 90%, proving that practice does, in fact, make perfect.
In the U.S. almost 20 million people are diagnosed with degenerative mitral valve disease, the most common type of this disease. There are three basic problems that can arise in the mitral valve:
- Regurgitation, or backflow, occurs when the valve doesn't close tightly. Blood leaks back into the chamber rather than flowing forward.
- Stenosis (usually associated with rheumatic heart disease) occurs when the flaps of a valve thicken, stiffen or fuse together. This prevents the valve from fully opening, and not enough blood flows through the valve.
- Atresia occurs when the valve lacks an opening for blood to pass through.
If not treated, mitral valve disease can cause atrial fibrillation, embolism, blood clots, stroke and congestive heart failure.
We diagnose mitral valve disease using echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to create a detailed image of the heart. There are two types of echocardiogram: a surface echo conducted on the outside of the body, and transesopohogeal echo, using a scope, which lets us look at the mitral valve from less than an inch away.
The mitral valve is repaired surgically through small incisions. If the patient is unable to have the mitral valve repaired it can be replaced with an artificial valve, either biological (from animal tissue) or mechanical, depending on the patient’s specific needs.